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.”
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.”
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.
Approaching almost fifty years, the American Bartender's School has been teaching mixologists the ‘ology of mixing. Having moved in the ‘80s from their original location on Madison Avenue, the school offers forty-hour courses, with students leaving as certified bartenders with a license issued by the New York State Board of Education. Combining lectures and a “lab” portion, we witnessed students attentively toiling over drinks for phantom customers in a room designed to look like one giant bar. The difference, however, is that unlike a culinary school where one might sample their own creations, students do not imbibe here. In fact, there is no alcohol to be found at this bar. Everything is in the correct bottles and the colors all match their potent potable equivalent. What was explained to us is that everything is about measurements. Students are given a recipe to follow, and provided they do it correctly, they can rest assured that it will taste exactly right in the real world. We left wondering whether phantom customers are good tippers.
There is a lot of space to have fun and be funny at Pioneer's, formerly named Comedy Bar. Well that makes sense, as it is owned by Ali Farahnakian, the man behind the PIT (People's Improv Theater) on 24th Street, which opened a new location just down the street in 2015. We found this place to have a little bit of everything. A fan of pinball? There are several machines; Love playing Jenga with giant size blocks? They have them; Want to dance? The music is playing and there are others who will join in; Like comedy? There are open mic nights; Want to simply drink? The selection is fine, with a variety of beers on tap... and the bartenders are ready to chat; Hungry? There is a menu to choose from and lots of popcorn to go around.
This tiny shop tucked away in Kips Bay has been the go-to spot for any and all of one’s footwear-related troubles since it opened in 2014. Manuel Muicela, the owner, came to New York from Nicaragua in 1987 and quickly joined the trade of shoe repair, enduring grueling six-day workweeks. After gaining thirty years of experience in the field, he was finally able to open his own business. “I learned how to repair shoes, and now I work for me,” he remarked proudly. In this residential area, most of his regulars live in the neighborhood. On the loyalty of his customers, Manuel noted, “If you do a good job, people come back.” A few things about Manuel’s shop set him apart from the rest. One of the first things that grabs the eye upon entering is the set of old-fashioned shoeshine chairs, where one can get a shoeshine for $5, cash only. He also has a unique machine in the back of the shop that stitches both the inside and the outside of the shoe. With a chuckle, Manuel warned our team, “You can stitch your finger if you’re not careful.” This machine is so rare that many other shoe repair shop owners throughout the city come to Manuel to use it.
An oasis in a concrete cityscape, this little church doubles as a place of worship and a serene garden in which to rest. The Episcopalian church was founded in 1848 by George Houghton to welcome any and all of the tired masses, in the spirit of inclusivity. Today, the church maintains that inclusive spirit by keeping its gates open all day to parishioners and non-parishioners alike. On any given day, one can find anyone from actors to businessmen seated among the bushes and fountains, chatting, eating or simply sitting in peace. “A lot of people just come in and meditate or chill,” parish administrator Bill Nave shared with us. “It is one of the most welcoming churches I have ever been to.” What a charming discovery in the midst of bustling Manhattan.