Today I was saddened to learn of the passing of Ed Lara, proprietor of Georgetown Hairstyling, which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. Ed was a terrific guy who was great at cutting hair, but he was also part of a world that continues to vanish, i.e. the virtually all-male domain known as the barbershop. His passing gives me an opportunity to remind my male readers of the virtues of patronizing these places, before they all disappear.
After I moved back to Georgetown more than a decade ago, Ed cut my hair for many years, as had his stepfather Rigo before him, when I was an undergraduate. Ed was always hugely professional and accommodating, happy to talk about anything from travel and customs in Spain, to different kinds of music (he played in a rock band on the side), to rumors about development plans in the neighborhood…or to just let you doze off in the chair. Back when my online Superman persona asserted itself, Ed was responsible for helping me grow out my hair in such a way that I could have a neat side part but still manage a dangling curl in front when required. Subsequently, whenever I called to make an appointment and gave my name, he’d always greet me by saying, “Hey there, Superman!”
About a year ago when my work changed, I stopped going to Ed – much to my guilt whenever I’d pass by his shop – and started getting my hair cut at another barbershop, closer to the office. Not unlike Ed’s shop, sometimes it’s so quiet that the only thing one can hear is the television news playing in the background, even while all of the elderly male barbers are hard at work giving a customer a trim. There are no close friendships one can perceive, and yet like in all barbershops there is a welcoming clubbiness to the place.
It’s often been observed that women can develop deep, personal relationships with their hairdressers. Because a lady’s hair can often take far longer to get ready than a gentleman’s, it’s only natural that while sitting in a chair for a great length of time while waiting for things like chemicals or curlers to work their magic, lengthy conversations will often result. Moreover a woman will often follow her particular hairdresser around, as they move from salon to salon, in part because of the relationship of trust that develops over time.
Typically, less is said about the relationship between a man and his barber, and there are likely several reasons for this. For one thing, in some circles it is still considered rather unseemly for a man to be fussing too much about his appearance. This has not always been the case however: one need only look to the figures of the Italian Renaissance or the Regency period in England to realize that, like their avian counterpart, the male peacock, men have been strutting around showing off their mops for quite awhile.
Another reason why there is often less of an obvious bond between male customer and male barber is the fact that barbershops these days are rarer animals than they used to be. With more and more unisex salons, and increasing numbers of men going to hairdressers rather than barbershops to get their hair cut, the old-fashioned, stripey-pole barbershop, with its nondescript decor and straight razors, seems to be little more than a relic of the past. From my point of view that is to their credit, rather than otherwise, but it’s certainly true that barbershops have been on the wane for some time now.
Although I’m sad to know that Ed will never cut my hair again, I’m grateful to have had such a good barber for so many years, and am equally glad that he was able to take over at one of the oldest continually operating businesses in town, and keep it going well into the 21st century. His passing is a reminder to those of us who appreciate small, local businesses, as well as things which may seem old-fashioned, that in order for such establishments to survive, it’s not enough to simply have nice feelings about them. They need our business, our patronage, and our recommendations to friends, in order to thrive in these increasingly homogenized times.