Eddy, the owner of Freestyle Barber Shop, has been a barber since the early 1980s. He got his start in his homeland of Russia, a country that I learned is known for barbers, thanks to their advanced equipment and scissor skills.
In 1995, Eddy and his brother started a barbershop on Seventh Avenue, around the corner from his current location. Since then, he has never strayed from Chelsea. He opened Freestyle Barber Shop in 2005, keeping many of his regular customers with him. He is proud to say that he has had many of the same barbers working on his team for fifteen or sixteen years. “The crew is very friendly,” he told me. “And I like my customers.”
When I visited in 2016, Eddy had just performed a renovation on the shop - and it looked beautiful. Despite the fact that there are so many salons and barbershops in Chelsea, Eddy is not worried about Freestyle’s ability to survive. “People in the area know us – we’ve been here for twenty-one years,” he said. “You don’t find other barbershops where the same people have been working here this long.”
Perhaps a bit unusual - barbershop in front, shoe, watch and jewelry repair station in back - Uriel and his son seem very pleased with the arrangement of their business. Uri learned the trade of shoemaking from his own father back in Uzbekistan, and when they came to New York in 1994, they opened up the shoe shop together. As Uri learned more and more skills through experimentation, his shop expanded from shoemaking to watch and jewelry repair. He was pleased to tell us how well respected he has become in the business, creating custom made shoes and doing repairs for numerous celebrities. A few years ago, after incessant pestering from his son, Uri agreed to allow Gabriel to open a barbershop up front, and the business moved from one father and son pair to the next generation. Uri is happy with the way things have turned out and feels that his son has been very successful. He stresses the importance of helping family to accomplish their dreams. For Uri, however, one of the most important things in life is fun. There are always people hanging around the shop, and when it gets quiet, Uri breaks out his clarinet. He has long been a musician at night, and lucky customers get a free taste of his beautiful songs. He promises that he is never bored, and wisely informs me that, “Life is simple when you like what you’re doing. ”
Being a barber runs in Sam Chulpayev’s family. His grandfather had his own barbershop in his native Uzbekistan and Sam’s uncles have also opened various barbershops and salons. After working at someone else’s salon for many years, Sam was proud to follow in his family’s footsteps and open up his own place at 170 West 23rd Street. The salon was tiny, however, with only five chairs, and he had amassed many devoted clientele while working in New York. He quickly realized that he would need more space, which led to him expanding across the street to number 169. I spoke to Daniel, Sam’s brother, who works on the business side of Made Man. He was a banker before, but he decided to join the family business after Sam’s second location opened. He feels it is very important to “help out your own family. ” He showed me around the barbershop, telling me about different aspects that made it stand out from other salons in the area. “It’s the little things that count, ” he said, mentioning the method by which the barbershop keeps track of appointments. They custom built the electronic system entirely from scratch based on customer feedback. That means that even before someone steps into the shop, they are receiving personal attention from Made Man just by booking an appointment. Daniel also informed me that the barbershop offers many free services to their loyal customers. The barbers give free clean-up services in between haircuts, including beards, and complimentary massages are given with haircuts. “We really want to build a relationship with our clients, so we offer little freebies, " he said, adding, "We’re the kind of shop that’s always hoping to give more for less. ” Though many customers are local, there are a good amount from New Jersey and Westchester. Daniel took me past a cupboard filled with antique barber tools. I learned that they come from a collection that Sam has amassed since 2010. It became clear that Daniel loves working with his brother. “When you’re working in a family business, the return on investment is definitely better, ” he told me. “It’s your passion and your ideas. ” The brothers’ passion can be seen in every aspect of the salon - even the chairs have been custom made using specially chosen prints and designs from the 1940s and 1950s. The devotion was also evident in the care and attention given to every customer. “Anything you can think of at a salon, you can get in our barbershop, ” Daniel assured me. “We take their appearance very seriously. ”Before I left, I spoke to Sam, who was finishing a client’s haircut. His statement was heartwarming: “I come from humble origins, but I’ve made a really beautiful high-end establishment with every client in mind. ” He explained that though his barbershop is definitely top of the line and can lean towards being pricy, he is always careful to keep things reasonable. “I don’t want to deny people service just because they can’t afford it. ” It was touching not only to meet someone who had created something wonderful from the ground up, but also someone who remembered his roots.
With all the centers we have discovered dedicated to children, pets, students, and shoppers, it was refreshing and intriguing to come upon Senior Planet – “the country’s first technology themed center for over-60s. ” The center offers courses, skill-shares, workshops, special events and lecture series that help senior citizens deal with the ever-changing technological world. 22 computers, 3 Skype stations, a gaming area, a projector, mobile devices and a lounge create a space that one might think is fit for a youngster, but is, in fact, the perfect space for the senior folks. “Aging with attitude” is their motto. Computer basics, advanced computing, introduction to the iPad, digital photography, social networking and more are all taught in a welcoming environment. What a brilliant concept!
A favorite of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Sarah Jessica Parker, New York Vintage is what co-founder Shannon Hoey describes as “a leader in fashion. ” Shannon has spent the past twenty-three years amassing an extensive collection of vintage clothing, which includes a downstairs retail space open to the public and an upstairs industry archive open by appointment only. Over the years, Shannon has dressed red carpet actresses and world-famous singers, and has worked closely with costume designers on a range of films and TV series, including Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men. In 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama made a historic appearance in a New York Vintage Norman Norell dress, and since then, Shannon has dressed her on many occasions. When I first visited New York Vintage, I could not believe my eyes. The window display was stunning, as was the old-fashioned décor, complete with richly upholstered chairs, gilded mirrors, and ornate chandeliers. I was captivated by the wall of Vogue photographs, each one featuring a piece from Shannon’s collection, and of course, by the true treasure of New York Vintage: high-heeled shoes, flamboyant hats, and endless racks of beautiful dresses from designers around the world. Upstairs, the industry archive upstairs was filled with even more outrageous items, from a dress owned by Ulysses Grant’s wife to intricate McQueen headpieces. “Every piece here has historical significance, ” Shannon told me. “We’re an institution, a working museum archive. ” In fact, she added, many of the items at New York Vintage have been purchased from museums, and each piece is meticulously documented and entered into a database. Today, Shannon is one of New York’s foremost experts on fashion as an art form, so I was surprised to learn that she never set out to work with vintage clothing. “Fashion discovered me, ” she told me, explaining how her husband’s career in antiques first sparked her interest in vintage. It quickly became her passion, and within a few years, she and her husband co-founded New York Vintage. “He handles the business side of things, and I’m the creative director, ” Shannon explained. “So I get to do the fun part. ”But the vintage business can be difficult, too, and it took years of hard work for Shannon to build her collection. “The kind of fashion we seek is not easily found, ” she said. “It takes patience and capital, and you need to know what you’re looking for. ” In the early days, Shannon spent a lot of time searching for new pieces in Europe, but nowadays, with three young daughters, she travels much less. When I asked about her children, she said with a smile, “They spend a lot of time here with me, and they love playing dress-up. ”Shannon, unsurprisingly, also loves dressing up, and she told me that she has a lot of opportunities to wear items from her collection. “Halloween is my favorite holiday, ” she explained, “And last year I went to Allison Sarofim’s Italian futurism-themed party in a pink Mohawk and mod clothing. ” But Shannon’s favorite era is the 1920s. “I’m obsessed with all of it, ” she said. “The mindset, the freedom, the departure from women being bound and put in corsets. ”Still marveling over Shannon’s list of celebrity clients, which includes Julia Roberts and Beyonce, I asked if she ever gets starstruck. When celebrities first started flocking to the store, she told me, it was totally overwhelming, “like running from a tidal wave. ” But since then, the only time she has really been starstruck was her visit to the White House with the First Lady. “Some celebrities still catch me off-guard, ” she said, “Like the time Nicole Kidman showed up unannounced. But otherwise, I’m used to it. ”When I asked Shannon about the future of New York Vintage, she told me that they are hoping to expand overseas. “We want to open our doors to global clients, ” she told me, “maybe by opening an outpost in Europe. ” But until then, she told me, she will continue to do what she loves here in New York, working with designers, inspiring them and feeling inspired. For Shannon, the truly fulfilling part of her job is working with designers and models, creating with them and helping to communicate their vision. “I’m always inspired, ” she said with a smile. “I have the best job in the world. ”