In Search of America: One Barbershop at a Time


This exhibit shows the highlights of a personal odyssey exploring Main Street Barbershops across America.  It also confirms the concept that the Main Street Barbershop is an important mainstay, a perpetual community connecting point, a desired masculine gathering place, and a safe social harbor. Barbershops continue to play a role as a stakeholder in social capital and provide an ongoing sense of place in urban, suburban, and small rural towns across the country.

Old barbershops are disappearing like other third places due to flight to the suburbs, franchisee haircutters and the decline of seasoned barbers which are being replaced by inexperienced unisex haircutters that may know style but are short on conversation and connection. In such places the patron is the next “number,” not a friend or a regular.

The 1950 U.S. Retail Census shows there were 287,655 barbershops; by the turn of the century, fifty years later, the number of barbershops had dropped to 55,893. This is a huge decline. It is estimated that there are approximately 60,000 barbershops now which would reflect a slight increase since 2000. Some of this increase is due to the trend of hipster barbers with their focus on providing proactive grooming of hair and beards. This has created a resurgence of the past more classical barbershop and barbering experience.

For the purposes of this exhibit, Main Street Barbershop, will be capitalized for emphasis as a formal informal institution, concept and pattern. Main Street herein may actually be a street with that name or the type or image of the confluence of a community: center of commerce, services, gathering and identity. America, the United States, is a diverse and ever-changing country. The barbershops in this exhibit are not all small town, suburban or urban but are across the whole range of municipalities. These include women-owned, African-American, Italian, Greek, Vietnamese, and Hispanic barbershops with the majority being operated by white, older men in smaller shops in country towns. But I have had my haircut in major metro areas such as New York City, NY; Washington, DC; Pittsburgh, PA; San Diego, CA; Cleveland, OH; Dallas, TX; Indianapolis, IN; Phoenix, AZ; Kansas City, MO, and others. The sizes of the cities range from less than 1,000 people to metro areas with a population exceeding 8.5 million. In rural America, you might have a one barbershop town while in a huge metro area you may have one or two barbershops per neighborhood. Although the barbershop density may differ, the environment and culture within each shop often is very similar and has been for generations.

This digital exhibit is interactive. To get the most meaning out of this exhibit, each person needs to participate fully in reading, watching the videos, listening to the audio recordings, examining the various photos, art prints, opening embedded articles, videos, and other reference materials. Each photo, particularly the map pins in the Geography section, should be doubled clicked on to open up the full photograph and detailed information regarding each barbershop.

Take this search to find a vibrant and vital part of America in the Main Street Barbershop. Enjoy!