MANCHESTER, NH – There is a thriving business underground in Manchester you may not even be aware of. Technically, it’s not underground – tucked in the upper floors of downtown offices there are all kinds of bustling business ventures – attorneys, dentists, software developers, yoga instructors.
On Jan. 21 barber Matt Maiorino was the first barber to bring in clients, offering traditional barbering services – razor cuts, hot-lather shaves and precision coifs – as part of the national resurgence in old-school barbering with a modern spin.
Springing up everywhere, modern barber shops are particularly appealing to millennials. The most popular shops see wait times of several hours for walk-ins, and their customers are frequent fliers who maintain their stylized looks.
While these are definitely not your grandfather’s barber shops, in this particular case, Maiorino is channeling his rightful claim to wield the straight-razor and ascend to the Kings Barber Shop throne: He discovered his grandfather actually was a barber – news he learned long after he left the world of wine sales to launch a new career path a dozen years ago.
Feeling burned out from sales, Maiorino decided to attend New England School of Barbering in Penacook. That’s when he found out he was barber royalty – his grandfather and great-uncle were both barbers in Portland, Maine, working from a shop located in a small two-family building where they worked downstairs and lived upstairs.
“Now it’s Ribollita Restaurant, it went from being an Italian barber shop to an Italian restaurant,” Maiorino says.
He found out about his DNA connection to barbering after he told his parents about his big career move. Having lost his grandparents before he was old enough to ask about their past lives, that chapter of his family history was all but lost to him.
He connected with David Bellman through Bellman’s son, Alex, who was a regular customer of Maiorino’s. He is the one who suggested Bellman get in on the barber shop trend by opening a barber shop and bringing Maiorino in on the ground floor, figuratively speak, of a new business venture.
“I was one of the first to buy in at this location, and this was only the second time that space on the fifth-floor was available since the 1990s. Back then I wasn’t in a position to buy it, but I always wanted to own it because of the views,” he says, looking out a window across the sweeping cityscape visible through three panoramic windows of the space.
As Bellman did the math to figure out how he could use the space and make some money, his son brought up the barber shop idea.
Bellman, a “scissor-cut kind of guy,” had never been to a traditional barber shop. He was all ears as his son described the long lines and high demand among younger clientele for a seat in a barber chair, customers which are also frequent fliers – keeping up a stylized cut means higher maintenance than old-school styles.
“And of course I realized how much sense it made. There are some cool layers to this. Not only would it be a ‘fun’ business venture for me, but I also realized the average customer of a barber shop is the perfect profile for a Bellman Jewelers engagement-ring customer,” says Bellman, with a smile. He’s already installed a small jewelry case near the door where he can show off some eye candy, including rings and watches with bling.
Maiorino says male clients who come in for the first time often refer to cell phone snaps of the rich and famously coiffed including Julian Edelmen, Tom Brady or Gordon Hayward when they want to change their look, and then maintain it – styles that include the “hard-part,” with a defined line across the head, and the pompadour – “all the disconnected haircuts the kids are wearing,” he says.
“The hard-part style originated back in the 1950s, I believe, and the reason was most guys when they combed their hair, if they didn’t have that hard part, the line would move around on the side of their head depending on the day and their hair wouldn’t lay right,” Maiorino explains. Creating the hard-part requires razoring in the part so that it’s enhanced.
“Basically making it easier for a guy to do his hair – it’s a time-saver,” Maiorino says.
He also offers discounts for law enforcement and military, who require more demanding upkeep.
As for the rise of barbering, Maiorino says it seems like guys just started caring about their hair again, and if he had to spin some history of the rise and fall and rise of barbering, he thinks the decline of barbering started in the 1970s, when hippies put a lot of barbers out of business.
“The long hair look did them in. A whole generation of people stopped going to barbers,” he says. “All the short haircuts were overseas, fighting the war.”
Schools like the New England School of Barbering created courses that covered the finer points of men’s barbering without the required courses to become master barbers which takes more time and money, like how to give a perm, making it possible for someone like Maiorino to reinvent himself for a relatively small investment of time and money.
He’s never looked back.
“I love it. I’ve never been happier. When I walk out I don’t take it home with me. When I was in sales I was always thinking about what tomorrow would bring, how was I going to make more sales. You need that disconnect,” he says. “It took me 32 years to figure out how to have a career, and not just a job. And I get to make people look and feel better, every day.
He tells a story about a customer he recently reconnected with.
“I ran into an old customer the other day, I hadn’t seen him in about a year – it just about made me cry – he’s gotten sick, and he’s on oxygen, but he said to me that even though he’s dying, when he sits in the barber chair it makes me feel like a million bucks,” Maiorino says.
Between his salesman’s gift for gab and his attention to detail, Maiorino has built a strong following, and hopes he can continue that now that he’s got his own space.
“I’m in it for the long haul. I’ve worked places where you hurry the guy in your chair to chase the next $20. Here, I am looking forward to building up my clientele and having a career I can enjoy,” he adds.
Bellman is in it for the long haul also, now that his son is overseeing the day-to-day at the jewelry store. Bellman is free to have some fun. He’s looking forward to the warmer weather and winter’s end – not only will the treetops fill in adding some green to the picturesque view, but he plans to create a roof-top lounge where customers can unwind before and after a haircut.
And while he appreciates the fine art of barbering, he says his own hair will remain in the hands of his long-time stylist, Sylvie Redburn, which is why he’s created a small space adjacent to the barbershop for her to operate her business, The Blue Haired Lady Salon.
“Sylvie is an artist, she’s a gifted person when it comes to make-up, and she does color like nobody’s business,” Bellman says. “When I saw the space I had to work with, I decided to move Sylvie here.
Redburn most recently was working at Kriss Cosmetics, owned by Kriss Blevens, someone Bellman’s known “since her Miss New Hampshire days.”
“Before Sylvie went to work with Kriss I had already made a deal for her to come here one day. It was just a matter of time, so there’s no hard feelings there,” Bellman says of acquiring his stylist as a subsidiary of the Kings Barber Shop team.
Now he can sit in Sylvie’s chair, spin around and take in the view – not only of the city, but of the high-rise barbering kingdom he’s building, one barber at a time.
“There’s definitely a fun factor for me. It’s a challenge and outside my realm of experience, but with Alex preparing to take over Bellman’s one day, I find it interesting how things come together. That is what freed me up to take on this project,” Bellman says. “It may not look like it, but it’s taken months of planning and construction, tearing down the walls of separate office spaces and starting from scratch.”
He walks over to the window next to the towel warmer and sizes up the city.
“There are so many exciting things happening in the city right now, some you can’t see from down there,” he says. “But I’m excited to be part of it all.”
Kings Barber Shop is located at 1650 Elm Street, fifth floor. Call 603-932-2137 for appointments, or book online.