The Barber Shops On Amsterdam

by

10/23/2002

920 amsterdam ave ny 100125

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

Photographs by Rachel Sherman

Inside Miguel’s Barbershop on 942 Amsterdam Avenue, Spanish speaking men sit in barber chairs facing the mirror. It is a sunny Friday in the early afternoon and the shop is busy.

I ask a guy named Anthony, who is sitting in the back, about Miguel’s.

"This is a guy’s place," he tells me. The barber working on his hair with an electric razor is giving him a fade-to-low trim.

"It’s family oriented," Anthony says, "So you have a lot of guys who grew up with each other. They knew each other in the Dominican Republic. Men come by and tell little stories. That’s how we are in our culture."

It certainly is a guy’s place. There are no women inside the shop. There are Yankee posters on the walls and Yankee caps on some of the men who have just come to chat.

Miguel’s Barbershop has been open for three years.

The owner, Miguel, came to the United States four years ago from a place called Nagua in the Dominican Republic. Miguel was a barber in the Dominican Republic, and once here he started working in the barbershops on Amsterdam. He was able to acquire enough customers and funds so that he and his brother could open Miguel’s Barbershop, their own place.

"You can come here and not waste a lot of time," Anthony tells me, "You can get any kind of style you want.

"They have competition from the guys across the street from 107-108th, but I think this is the best one – you got more room. Over there it’s always packed."

I cross the street to the competition–Santana’s Barbershop on 965 Amsterdam. Santana Solis, the owner, came to the United States in 1966. He is also from the Dominican Republic and he does not speak much English.

Santana’s has been open for 34 years, and through a translator, Mr. Solis points across the street to two other stores he owns. He says that he moved his barbershop from the other side of the street to this location five years ago.

Mr. Solis has a large brown cat that sits in the sun on one of the chairs. I pet the cat and take pictures of the men. Santana’s is as busy as Miguel‚s. When asked, all the customers are happy with their haircuts. There are no other women here, just like Miguel’s. I pet the cat again and talk to it.

"You want it?" one man with an accent asks me, "Take it."

"It is a boy or a girl cat?" I ask.

"I don’t speak English," the man tells me, smiling.

I cross the street again and enter Barberia Barbershop at 980 Amsterdam. A boy gets his haircut by the barber, Gilberto.

Gilberto has worked here for seven years, and he looks like an actor in a Fellini film. The boy getting his haircut is at the age where he should shave his moustache but hasn’t yet.

The man in the chair tells me this is a very old establishment. It is quiet inside, and I wonder if after I leave, Gilberto will give the boy his first shave.

I have always wanted to go in Las Divinas, the hairdresser at 994 Amsterdam. The big window has a pair of colorful scissors crossing each other, and through it you can see the gold-colored mirrors inside.

 

There are no customers yet, so Nelly, Clarisa and Wendy, the women that work here, do each other’s hair. The women are from the Dominican Republic

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as well. Wendy, who speaks some English, tells me she is getting extensions. I watch as Nelly glues piece of black hair onto the back of Wendy‚s scalp. The extensions will last for three weeks and cost $75.

The three women talk in Spanish while I take pictures. A homeless man runs in and sits in the back of the store where the blow dryers are.

"No pictures! No pictures!" he says when he sees me, putting his hands in front of his face.

I tell him that I will not take his picture but he runs out of the store anyway.

"He’s crazy," Wendy says, "He comes in here to get warm."

Melvin and Pat‚s is a unisex salon at 998 Amsterdam. It is not as big as Santana‚s or Miguel‚s, but it is packed with people and mirrors on both sides of the wall, so that it seems bigger.

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Melvin and Pat‚s has been open for three years. The clientele today is almost all young men, although the barbers tell me the salon is for both sexes. It is cramped, and some of the men snicker while I ask questions, although I am not sure why.

"There’s a woman back there," one of the barbers tells me.

I go to the back where a woman sits watching television. She does not want me to take her picture.

I backtrack to 926 Amsterdam to a place with a sign outside that says Leo‚s Barbershop. It is a small store with one barber named Tulio, who is known in the area as Leo. Leo tells me he has been open for only two months. He has worked in the neighborhood in various barbershops on Amsterdam since he came here from the Dominican Republic eight years ago. He saved money while he worked so he could open his own place.

"Business goes slow at first, but it is starting to pick up," he tells me.

When the man who is getting his hair cut leaves the place is quiet except for the television, turned to the Spanish channel, like in all the shops I have been to.

Leo speaks more English than many of the other barbers. He gives me his card and his email. I wish him luck and pass two more barbershops on the way home.

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