by Susan Fried
Shelly Intravartolo, the owner of the Parlour in Columbia City, directs a young woman to a well-worn barber’s chair and asks her what kind of haircut she would like. The conversation is relaxed and comfortable and it’s not long before the new customer is talking to Shelly like they’ve known each other for years.
The small beauty salon is unpretentious. The barber chairs in the Parlour are all different, acquired second-hand. They, like the other quirky and eclectic furnishings, reflect the ebullient personality of the salon’s owner. Five photographs of old South Seattle Barbershops are displayed on the wall above the mirrors and chairs. A replica of a barbers pole glows in the window.
A comfortable couch lines the wall opposite the mirrors. The Parlour like all beauty parlors and barbershops has its own personality. What draws customers to a particular hair cutting establishment depends on a lot of factors including recommendations from friends, convenience and, what brought this young woman into the Parlour, a sign outside that says walk-ins welcome.
There are barbershops and beauty salons everywhere. You drive down almost any street with small businesses in Seattle, and you’ll see a shop advertising haircuts. It’s the sort of business that the internet can’t replace.
Almost everyone needs a place to have their hair cut. Once you find that place, you tend to establish a relationship with the person who cuts your hair. More than cutting your hair just the way you like it, your barber or stylist becomes a friend, a therapist or a mentor.
Earl’s Cuts & Styles has been a fixture on 23rd and Union for 30 years. Owner Earl Lancaster has many customers who have known him that entire time. He has mentored other barbers and his shop has been a place where a kid can make a few bucks sweeping up, and gain some knowledge “on their journey through life,” he said. He sponsors little league football teams, speaks at youth events and tries to give back to the community. He said that the change in the neighborhood has had an effect on his business.
“This used to be a thriving black community,” he said. “It was mixed but majority black. Since gentrification and displacement and relocation of people, it’s changed. There aren’t as many black families as there was that helped my success along the way. Now I’m working with older clients.”
Earl’s shop is moving from its current location to the Liberty Bank Building across the street in a few months
Intravartolo decided she wanted to pursue being a hairstylist in high school. She likes the relationships she has with her customers, and the flexibility and the creativity owning a salon gives her.
“I’m thinking of shapes when cutting hair,” she said. “Taking into consideration hair texture, growth patterns and making things work for people, you can take a guy who looks like he’s bald and just with the right shape, he’ll look like he has a normal head of hair.”
She enjoys her profession.
“You get where you want to come in and talk to your friends all day long and work on shapes,” she said.
Tony Brooks Sr. who owns The Brooks Family Barbershop on Rainier Avenue. He was working at Boeing during a period of layoffs and thought being a barber would be a great skill to have. His brother, who has styled hair for contestants in the Miss USA Pageant, told him, “You know there’s hair all around the world.” So Tony decided to go to school to become a barber, thinking that if he stayed with Boeing, it would be a great second source of income. After being laid off and finishing school he worked with a couple barbers before building his own salon at his home. He has been at his current location for 11 years. Both his sons are in the business. Like Earl Lancaster, Brooks, who is also a pastor, makes a point of being a mentor to young people.
“I have over a hundred sons from this barber chair that graduated from high school that went on to college, came back and now I’m cutting their kids hair,” he said. “This is a ministry as well as a community barbershop. So this is our little social network, sitting right here.”
Brooks is a busy man, and he says between ministry, cutting hair and being an entrepreneur.
“Everything that I desire to do in my life, I can do it for God,” he said.
Maybe your neighborhood barbershop or beauty salon isn’t only a place to get your haircut the way you like it. Maybe it’s a place to change your outlook on life, engage with the community and possibly even form lifelong friendships.
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Featured Image: Joseph Irving owner of Joseph’s Elite Image trims a customer’s beard at his barbershop on South Barton Street in Rainier Valley. (Photo: Susan Fried)