Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood is no stranger to barbershops.
There are at least four in the neighborhood, with institutions like Creative Salon, His & Hers, and of course, Carter’s Barbershop, that have been around for decades.
But there’s a new shop in town. Principle Barbers opened up in February and is both parts barbershop and entertainment space.
The shop, located on the corner of Ogden and Avers avenues, has one of those old-school style storefronts, with huge windows. There’s a barber pole spinning outfront and a logo on the front door, designed by the owner, that greets you in the outline of a hummingbird wearing a flat cap. Four barbers’ chairs take up the first half of the shop.
And this is where the tradition ends.
White paneled backgrounds give way to darker hues in the second half of the shop, where a mix of exposed brick and blue walls consume the space.
To the left is a sound stage and large flat-screen TV for music performances. Patterned, mid-century style couches and chairs signify the lounge area in the middle, with wooden end tables stacked with issues of The New Yorker magazine. To the right, there are refurbished wooden shelves covered with interior design books, issues of Monocle, a subscription-based barbers’ magazine, and a single copy of Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law.
In the back, there’s even a wooden tennis table. Nearby, a sky blue retro mini fridge. A box of cran-raspberry La Croix sits on top.
Bobby Price is the guy behind all of this.
“I wanted this space to be all of me,” Price said. “I love music, a full DJ setup and so on. It’s all parts of me; it’s not just cutting hair.”
Price grew up in Lawndale and went to school in the neighborhood. He started cutting his younger brother’s hair around age 15, but he wasn’t interested in doing it professionally.
That changed about seven years ago. Price decided to quit his job as a waiter, went to barbering school, and honed his craft at high-end shops downtown like Soho House, State Street Barbers, and the now-defunct Haberdash. The style of these shops influenced much of what’s in Principle Barbers.
“I was trying to create a space that was just as a good as any other barbershop in the West Loop or Downtown and bring it to North Lawndale,” Price said. “[I wanted to] offer something that was more on the creative side other than traditional barbering.”
It hasn’t been easy.
To get Principle Barbers off the ground, Price needed an angel investor, that’s where Dave Bere comes in.
Bere and his partner helped fund most of the shop. Bere describes it as “somewhere between a gift and a bank loan.”
“It’s too early in the process,” Bere said. “[Banks] won’t want to take the risk. Angel investors will help them get started, and then over time, the business will build up to enough and then the banks will be interested.”
Eventually, Price will need to pay back that loan.
Customer Alexie Young is from Lawndale and she sometimes brings in her young son for a haircut. She said she likes that Price’s shop is different — there’s no sports playing on the TV and no cussing in the shop.
“The overall feel of the space, feels very upscale, high-end, trendy, and it’s nice to have spaces like this close in the community,” she said.
Then there are folks like Ryan Williams, a local yard worker, who found the shop online and decided to check it out.
“I never seen nothing like this in my life before,” Williams said. “It’s beautiful. It’s good to see good things come to North Lawndale. Everybody gives North Lawndale such a bad wrap.”
Price was initially hesitant to open up a shop in Lawndale.
“Because of the economic level in the neighborhood,” Price said, “I didn’t think that people would appreciate the price of the service.”
Price’s haircuts start at $30, double that of some other shops nearby.
“A lot of barbers, in order to keep clientele, would race to the bottom. So it’s like two [haircuts]) for $30. A child and an adult for $20,” Price said. “The prices get lower, and lower and lower. And so, with any profession, if you do that, you dilute the craft.”
Price said the price point is important to him because his shop isn’t offering just a haircut, it’s offering an experience, and that he needs to charge an amount that’s representative of his time and brings in enough money to support his wife and three children.
Price said he isn’t trying to compete with the other barber shops on the scene in Lawndale, he’s trying to add to it.
“I can’t compare myself to them. They’re so deeply rooted,” Price said.
The majority of Price’s clients, though, actually aren’t from the neighborhood — yet.
Right now, most of them are former customers that have followed Price from shop to shop for years. They’re willing to travel 40 minutes to an hour just to get their haircut. Some don’t come to Lawndale otherwise.
But there’s a flip side. Price said some people have asked if he’s helping gentrify the neighborhood.
“They see my shop and they’re like, ‘You part of that crew ain’t you?’ And I’m like, ‘No, I’m actually from Lawndale,’” Price said.
The crew that Price is really a part of is the growing change along Ogden Avenue. In the last few years, a health and fitness center and cafe have opened up.
Like any business, time will tell whether Price’s shop can thrive in the community, as well.
The shop has been open for a little over six months. Right now, clientele is steady but stagnate, and Price estimates it’ll take a year or two to build it up.
As for staffing, there are three open chairs in the shop.
Price hopes to recruit barbers who can cut any type of hair and style, and convince them that his shop in Lawndale is just as good as the ones downtown.
He’s a man driven by his principles, it’s the reason he named is shop Principle Barbers.
Price plans to make this business adventure work, with time and a little patience.