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Essential Journal

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A Cut Above

As the world drifts towards the abstract escapism offered by social media, Ian Harrold is left to wonder if the last hope for the brick-and-mortar store lies at the bottom of a bottle

words by Ian HARROLD

Would you like a drink while you’re waiting? Of course you would. Who wouldn’t? Drinks offerings – both hard and soft – are something of a staple at the barber shop. In fact, the classic combination of a trim and a tipple goes back further than you might think. Rumour has it that barber shops often doubled up as speakeasies during the high-and-dry years of prohibition. That’s a story for another day, no doubt. But the point I’m trying to make is this: Booze and barber shops are increasingly familiar bedfellows.

And the hospitality doesn’t stop there; Marylebone’s Van Clarke salon has no less than two in-house chefs to cater to their soon-to-be coiffed and preened clients. Shuffle a few doors down from your local, city centre barber and you’re sure to stumble upon any number of retail spots equipped with espresso machines and beer fridges. 

Bottom line? Food and drink have never been more closely linked to shopping and grooming. The obvious explanation is that we’re living increasingly cash-rich, time-poor lives, so grabbing a drink or a bite to eat kills two birds with one stone. But I think it runs much deeper than that. We’re not just looking for ways to optimize time, we’re looking for ways to enrich it.

There’s something to be said for experiential value in today’s pace and social climate. We seek out all-encompassing, experience-led lifestyle elements. It occurs to me that the internet – and with it, social media – have spurred this on somewhat, albeit some-what indirectly. 

The visually-led but ultimately shallow era of Instagram has left us yearning for something more tactile, more immersive, more liveable. By the same token traditional, brick and mortar stores – unable to beat the internet’s thirst for the always-new and the ever-cheap  – have had to up their game in other ways. With the age of the internet in full swing, clothing stores run the risk of becoming little more than technicoloured museums if they don’t do something to win back the hearts, minds and wallets of the masses. Turning the retail experience into something more than just a mindless shopping spree is a surefire way of doing that. 

By tapping into something more akin to a lifestyle experience, shops have a real chance to become more than just a place to spend, they can become an experience unto themselves. In fact, they might just wind up becoming the escape we need, a way to slow things down and catch our breath (in both a literal sense and a metaphorical one). Barber shops don’t suffer that same pressure – the internet can’t cut your hair (yet). But it’s nice to see them rising to the occasion regardless. 

Barber shops have long since been a place of rest, respite and renewal between bouts of whatever the day has to throw at you. They’ve forever been a pace to escape that constant thirst for novelty, and that compulsion to never stand still, and long may that continue. Anyway, I digress. What was I saying in the first place? Oh yeah! Would you like a drink while you’re waiting? IH