New York (AFP)
Shortly after the coronavirus shutdown in New York City last spring, Herman James picked up his mower, headed outside, and found himself a new identity: the Central Park barber.
A year later, business is booming for the 33-year-old, Manhattan’s latest attraction and only green-lung barber, known for its musicians, roller clubs and birds.
“Love it, being a pioneer and having a monopoly,” James says in his new “shop” – a folding chair under a leaf-covered pergola near the Strawberry Fields John Lennon Memorial.
After a 45-minute subway ride from his Brooklyn home, James opens his rolling suitcase, removes the scissors, mirror, and comb, and hangs them on hooks in the wooden pergola that overlooks the boating lake.
He lines up the hair products on the floor and drapes a dress over the chair. There is no red, white, and blue striped flag pole, but it does display a banner that reads “Central Park Barber: Free Haircuts!” ”
James began offering free haircuts in the park in May 2020 after pandemic restrictions temporarily shut down all non-essential businesses in New York City, including the store where he worked.
He hoped the cuts would give New Yorkers a boost during a difficult time and was confident locals would show their appreciation through donations.
Customers usually pay him the typical price of a barber cut in the Big Apple: $ 20 or $ 30. However, he received as little as $ 1 and up to $ 200.
“I decided to pretty much take the initiative,” James said, recalling his outdoor adventure.
“I grabbed my chair, my tools, and put them on display. I just exposed it to see how people would react. About ten minutes a guy came and sat down.
“Once people saw that he was getting his hair cut, everyone pretty much turned down. There were 90 days after the start of the pandemic and everyone was in need!
James’ incursion initially caused some confusion among park officials, but they allowed him to stay.
“It was the first time they had dealt with something like this before. There was no permit or request. They weren’t sure what to do with me, ”he recalls.
– ‘Very cool’ –
The demand, coupled with local news coverage, has seen James, a barber since 2010, become a fixture.
At the height of the lockdown, it was making about 20 to 25 cuts per day. Today, it is 10 to 15 on average.
” It’s very cool. I would do this all the time if I had enough hair, ”said Joel Linchitz, 72, who received a haircut last Thursday.
Customers can book through the Schedulicity app; walkers and runners come regularly. James cuts women’s hair on the condition that they don’t want anything fancy “like layers”.
“Being outside in nature and having people pass by taking pictures is a whole new experience that people really enjoy,” he says.
“Plus, it’s much safer. It’s less risky than being inside. There is fresh air that can circulate. “
Another plus: no overheads, which James describes as “a real blessing”.
Cons include rain: the forecast dictates his schedule and he doesn’t work in the winter.
Since her chair doesn’t move up and down, cutting the children’s hair puts a little strain on her back.
James also can’t plug in a hair dryer, but says the sun and the pleasant breeze from the park do a “good job.”
What does he do with his cut hair?
“One of my clients gave me a dustpan and a small broom. I sweep it up and throw it in the trash, ”he explains.
Hair salons reopened last summer, but James has no plans to go inside.
“The demand is still alive. And I am the first in history. I’m not interested in going from there to building someone else’s brand, ”he says.
© 2021 AFP