Historic barbershop says goodbye to Fulton

After more than 100 years in operation, one of the oldest businesses in Southwest is closing its doors, at least temporarily.

The end of March marked the end of the Lake Harriet Barbershop’s storied run at 3012 W. 50th St. in Fulton.

Barbershop owner Kevin Ayers said that the 50th & Xerxes neighborhood hasn’t been as supportive of his independent business as he expected when he took over about a year and a half ago, but other Fulton residents and business owners argue that the neighborhood’s small business community remains vibrant and cite other reasons for the barbershop’s decline.

‘There isn’t that middle class anymore’

As was the case too often this winter, the day we chatted was a slow one at the barbershop. Well into the afternoon, Ayers had only given three haircuts, each at $16 a pop, with the too-long breaks between customers whiled away by reading the newspaper. Though he only pays $700 per-month in rent, Ayers said that he hasn’t done enough business this winter to pay the bills.

Though he characterizes the 50th and Xerxes business node as “in decline,” Ayers acknowledged that the reasons for his barbershop’s decline are multifaceted. The demographics of the neighborhood have changed, with many of the older gentleman who constituted the barbershop’s core clientele moving away for one reason or another. Recently, most of the shop’s business has come from businessmen traveling through town, Ayers said.

Ayers said that the younger men filling the void near 50th and Xerxes seem less apt to patronize an old-school barbershop, though this isn’t the case throughout town.

Contrasting the success of barbershops that cater to the black community with his own shop’s struggles, Ayers said “it’s a new generation of white males that have really lost that identification with their barber, at least here in the Twin Cities.”

Furthermore, Ayers said his $16 price point has placed his barbershop in a no man’s land of sorts. More and more, he says, young men either want to pay under $10 for a cut at places like Great Clips or upwards of $50 for appointments at higher-end salons.

More generally, Ayers argued that middle class households have largely left Fulton, making it difficult for blue-collar businesses to turn a profit.

“Here, there’s a high income and a really low income. There isn’t that middle class income anymore,” he said.

‘The neighborhood really does support us’

“There isn’t a dearth of money here, but businesses do come and go — that isn’t unusual,” he said, adding that there are very few vacant commercial spaces near 50th and Xerxes relative to other business nodes throughout Minneapolis.

Richard Piepenburg, owner of Vinaigrette, a year-and-a-half-old vinegar and oil store at 50th and Xerxes, also took issue with the notion that Fulton isn’t as supportive of independent businesses as it once was.

“We’ve had a lot of people come in and patronize our store basically because we are independent. The neighborhood really does support us.”

Matt Perry, president of the Nicollet-East Harriet Business Association, said that none of NEHBA’s 112 Southwest members have reported a lack of support for small businesses in the area. But oftentimes, when businesses struggle, it’s because shoppers just aren’t aware of their existence.

“Our non-scientific studies have shown that people’s awareness of where businesses are drops to almost nothing when you get beyond four or five blocks from where they live, unless you’re talking about businesses on main thoroughfares,” he said.

“I think people are very interested in shopping local, but oftentimes they just don’t know what’s around them.”

Barbershop to relocate, not close

Though the barbershop’s doors are now closed, Ayers said that he plans to reopen the shop under the same name “in a more practical neighborhood” before too long.

“I’m going to sit on the couch for a month, but I’ll be back,” he said, adding that he hasn’t yet begun to investigate specific relocation possibilities.

Meanwhile, Finlayson, who has patronized the same barber since 1982 (and admits that his barber’s job has gotten progressively easier as his amount of hair has decreased), suggested that when Lake Harriet Barbershop reopens, Ayers focus on bringing in a younger clientele.

“Barbers are like priests — you pick your favorite and stick with them. I would only change if my guy died or retired,” he said.