Business

Go back in history and get a haircut

Middle of the row: On West Maxwell between Mill and Upper streets is a row of five 19th-century brick shotgun-style cottages that have seen various occupants come and go. Holding down the middle spot is Ginger's Barbershop. This December, it will have been there four years, and proprietor Ginger Walker says the location and the building are just right for her kind of business.

Family ties: Walker and her daughter, Mc­Kenzie, make up the mother-daughter enterprise. Barbering runs in their family. Ginger Walker's mother is a barber. Her sister was a barber before she took a break to raise a family. And both McKenzie and Ginger earned their diplomas at Bailey's Barber-Stylist College, where McKenzie studied under Ginger's close friend, Jennifer Bailey, whose father, Roger, taught Ginger's mother. Ginger herself learned from Paul Bailey, Roger's brother. You need a diagram to keep it all straight.

She jumped the clipper ship: Ginger Walker worked for 13 years at a barbershop on South Ashland before deciding it was time to strike out on her own. Ginger's Barbershop came into being when McKenzie drove by the row of buildings back in 2004, saw one was available, thought it looked like a gingerbread cottage perfect for a woman named Ginger, and told her mom, ”I think this can work.“

Calling shotgun: Building owner Kaufmann Properties, with a little help from the city's Division of Historic Preservation, is able to provide a few details about the buildings the company simply calls ”the shotgun houses.“ Originally there were eight in the row. Built sometime between 1871 and 1883, they're considered the last surviving 19th-century blue-collar residences in the South Hill Historic District. Tenants ran the gamut from physician to night watchman before they were converted to retail in 1972. The layout seems well-suited for a barbershop. In Ginger's, the front room holds leather sofas that are a cut above the normal waiting-room seating. A middle room has space for three barber chairs, a small sofa and a TV, which McKenzie, 25, occasionally hooks up to a Nintendo Wii. Her young customers love that. In the back, there's a small kitchen, half-bath and another work station that a colorist uses in the evenings, taking jobs by appointment. There's parking behind the building or on the street.

Is there a stylist in the house? Ginger Walker calls herself an old-school clipper barber. She cuts only men's hair — less muss, less fuss — and never by appointment. It's walk-ins welcome, and that'll be $12, please. The shop's location means she gets a lot of customers who work downtown. It's easy to slip in, get a trim, and slip out before the boss notices you're gone. ”But don't take my picture, please! I'm on the clock,“ begged one customer to this reporter on a recent ­morning. Because the shop is open weekdays until 6, ”a lot of people run in after they get off work,“ says Ginger Walker.

Hair is the window to the soul: Walker's customers include college students, construction workers, toddlers, lawyers, bankers, skateboarders, grandpas and biker dudes. She comforts the little boys who wail because it's their first haircut and the big boys who whimper because they have few hairs left to cut. There are customers who come in with combovers that begin an inch above one ear: ”I try to suggest something new.“ The mother and daughter team see their share of mullets: ”We try to talk them into downsizing the party in the back,“ says Ginger Walker. And hair transplants? ”We have customers who've had work done. It does really grow, but at first it looks almost like little rows of corn.“

4-2, eyes of blue: After a few visits, a customer might be known as a 4-2 or a 5-3 combo. The numbers refer to the length of razor on the top and sides. The 4-2 is the favorite combination. The Caesar cut — think George Clooney — is popular, too. But they also do James Dean-like pompadours for bikers and get requests for ”faux-hawks,“ where the sides are left long, but pushed up with product to form a mohawk. Younger men generally are going longer and shaggier these days, but ”the flat-top will never die,“ says Ginger Walker.

A cutting edge: Mother and daughter use a straight razor with hot lather to give neck shaves, which are very popular. In fact, Ginger Walker has a collection of vintage straight razors in cases around the shop. And they use special vacuum clippers that whisk the annoying little hairs away before they ever hit the collar. You mean a Flowbee? ”We don't use that word,“ laughs Ginger Walker. And she's even willing to shave back hair. ”Mom does that. I don't do that,“ says McKenzie with a hint of a shudder. One foreign gentleman's request for an armpit shave was politely refused, however. There is a limit, after all.

Take a seat: At Ginger's Barbershop, the waiting room is never empty. The Walkers' Chihuahua, Chauncey, and English bulldog, Izzy, spend the day there following the sunlight, and they welcome company. They're two breeds that never need clipping.

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