J’s Barbershop keeps legacy alive at longtime Wales Street location
Starting a new business during a recession and global health pandemic — isn’t that intimidating?
“Yea, it is,” said Jessica Wagner, owner of J’s Barbershop, which opened today. “But also one of the most famous business quotes is that some people have profited best when the economy was falling apart.”
Wagner had been cutting hair at an Easton barbershop for the past 10 years when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, forcing the Baker Administration to shutter large parts of the economy in mid-March, including barbershops and hair salons.
“When the government shut us down, I drove away crying not knowing what I was going to do,” she recalled. “We’re self-employed contractors.”
On her way to her Washington Street home she saw the “For Rent” sign in the window of Tom’s Barber Shoppe, the longtime hair cuttery located at the intersection of Wales and North streets. Tom Couite, the owner, retired earlier this year.
She discussed the idea of starting her own shop with her mother. Wagner said while she was skeptical about the idea, it was her mom who pushed her to at least call and investigate the opportunity.
“I met with Tom and his wife, Ann, and wondered, if not now, when?” Wagner said. “Would I drive by the shop every day resentful of not taking advantage of the opportunity?”
So Wagner made the leap. Not only is she able to now work in the same town where her son is going to school, but that high-visibility storefront is once again filled, and Abington residents can continue getting haircuts at 23 Wales Street.
The shop has a fresh coat of paint and new wall hangings. Couite gifted some of his old equipment to Wagner, who incorporated it into the shop’s decor.
“People have probably seen me outside spraypainting chairs. I”ve been inside preparing for about a month,” she said. “I tried to go with a theme that wouldn’t alienate those who liked the old barbershop feel. A lot of his equipment is still in there.”
Wagner said she was drawn to becoming a barber instead of a hair stylist because of the precision involved with cutting men’s hair.
“Barbering is very precise. It’s very unforgiving,” she said. “I’ve always liked art and [barbering] is an art form. I enjoy getting to know people’s face shapes.”
Wagner said she also likes being part of people’s lives “in small doses.”
“I’ve started cutting some kids’ hair when they were in the eighth grade and now they’re graduating college,” she said.
Wagner said she’s hoping to serve a clientele looking for something different than the recent trend of higher-end barbershops that have opened up offering a retro, stylized experience, albeit sometimes with a lengthy wait time.
“My prices are reasonable and I’m all about turnover,” she said. “There’s no reason why anyone should spend half their morning for a haircut, when in my opinion, it shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes.”
Opening a service industry business in the time of COVID-19 comes with additional rules and requirements. To reduce the amount of people waiting inside the shop, customers are asked to book an appointment through the Cut app. Wagner will be wearing a mask while cutting hair, all equipment will be sanitized between customers, tools will sit in Barbicide disinfectant longer, capes won’t be reused, and hair dryers are prohibited.
Wagner is planning to offer a series of discounts. On “Green Wave Wednesday” any kid’s haircut is $3 off. Seniors, veterans, and active-duty military will also receive $3 off (veterans and military have to show their cards). And on Food Pantry Friday’s customers who bring in food for the Abington Food Pantry will also receive $3 off their cut.
She said the slate of specials were inspired by the town’s community spirit and support of its local businesses — things she feels are more pervasive in Abington than other communities where she’s lived.
“When I first moved here, it took me a while to understand why people seemed nicer,” said Wagner. “I love Abington. I think it’s a great town.”