Tiny Barber, Big dreams Profile

| 02 Jun 2016 | 04:03

“That is the smallest barbershop I have ever seen,” a passerby said as I waited for owner Avi Jacobov to finish his last cut of the night.

It was nearing 9:30 p.m. His store hours, as listed, span from 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., but if the customers keep lining up, he’ll stay later. Because, as Mr. Jacobov is acutely aware, the success of a small business depends on happy customers -- particularly one that charges a flat rate of $19 for any service, from a trim or haircut, to a hot towel shave.

Village Barber Shop USA1 Inc. opened up just short of a year ago, but Jacobov has been in the barber business going on 20 years. His father worked in a barbershop in Tajikistan, and from him Jacobov learned the trade. At age nine he was sweeping the floors, and by 14 he had performed his first cut.

He moved to New York a decade ago, began barbering at a small shop in Astoria, and transitioned through various ones throughout lower Manhattan. He didn’t like working under someone else. So he quit the business, and sunk into a funk trying to figure out what to do next. With a stay-at-home wife and three kids, his situation was tenuous.

Then a prior client of his, a real estate broker, came upon the tiny nook of a space at 270 W. 22nd St., which had recently become vacant after unsuccessful stints as a dry cleaner and locksmith. Jacobov ventured out to be his own boss.

Business didn’t come immediately. But soon, clients began to appreciate not only his talent and expertise, but his affable nature. He’s not one just to sit in the salon and wait for a cut to arrive: sole proprietorship is all about the hustle, especially given that there is no shortage of barbershops in Chelsea. In a generous loop around the area of 21st and 23d streets between 7th and 8th avenues, there are at least eight shops, all offering a similar menu of services and only slight variances in price. So developing relationships with customers becomes integral to success.

Competition is trying for these small businesses, particularly with the area’s astronomical rents. One shop on 7th Avenue, recently renamed Boyz 2 Men in an attempt to modernize, has been in operation since 1935. In contrast with most of the other surrounding businesses, they have noticed a recent downturn - most likely due to the proliferation of nearby shops. Just up the street, VL Studio Haircutters boasts the cheapest cut at just $14, but their owner wasn’t in at the time, and the barber who welcomed me said he rarely visited.

Lucky for Jacobov, his 100-square-foot shop allows him to keep costs as low as possible, and the place is sleek, functional and neat as a pin. Bells and whistles are not the focus: the customer’s satisfaction and his discretion are. And there’s another advantage to the close quarters: some men are very sensitive about their hair, receding hairlines or surgical transplants, insecurities of every strand and follicle- these concerns are strictly between Jacobov and his customer. Only when it is extremely busy does he enlist the help of a co-barber, Mike, at which time he’ll squeeze in an extra seat. The succinct space does not accommodate eavesdroppers, so even queued-up customers wait, out of earshot, in a succession of comfortable chairs assembled outside the shop, weather permitting. And if the weather is not permitting (or the wait times excessive), and you happen to live nearby, Jacobov is happy to come ring your buzzer when his chair opens up. His personal cell phone is on the awning.

It might sound a little old school, but barbering is one of those arts that technology has yet to improve upon. It thrives on attention to detail, talent, consistency, and loyalty, which are all characteristics that Avi Jacobov has honed sharp as a straight razor shave.