New barber takes pole position

New Lebanon man cuts hair in a way that evokes a bygone era

SHAVE AND A HAIRCUT…Two bits! Well, not exactly, but the spirit behind that old jingle is alive and well in this town with the recent opening of Johnny’s Barber Shop, featuring master barber and proprietor John Le Barnes. In our digitized, fast-paced world, Johnny’s seeks to grant us a respite, a chance to converse with friends and neighbors and an opportunity to be pampered.

Johnny’s is a traditional men’s barber shop, not a salon. It is equipped with chairs and a shaving sink that date from the 1920s or ’30s, according to Mr. Le Barnes. An old fashioned barber’s pole graces the front of the shop, while on one wall a picture of Marilyn Monroe reminds us (at least us 50-somethings) of a very different, if not better time. And although Mr. Le Barnes employs a straight razor for a hot towel shave (or just a neck shave), unfortunately state law requires use of a disposable blade, so no stropping strap graces the side of the chair.

The site of Johnny’s has served almost continuously as a men’s barber shop since the 1950s. Mr. Le Barnes began the process of buying the building and the business about three years ago, when the previous owner, Gasper Ingui, passed away. Mr. Le Barnes, 45,who grew up in Pittsfield and lived in neighboring Stephentown before moving to New Lebanon last year, had been cutting his own and his friends’ hair for some time and felt he had a knack for it. His father also encouraged him.

After purchasing the business, he went to barbering school, graduating and passing the state boards earlier this year. When, after an anxious wait, his barber’s license was issued in May, he was able to open. Having retained his day job as a maintenance worker, he has been barbering and seeing the business slowly grow ever since. His shop is open Tuesdays to Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. A basic haircut is $12 or $10 for kids 12 and under.

Under its new ownership, the shop has seen a few tips toward modernity. It has been freshly painted, outfitted with updated light fixtures, a new shampoo sink, and it sports a TV. Mr. Le Barnes wants the place to be an easygoing, comfortable environment, where customers feel free to “hang” before or after their haircuts, to engage in lively conversation and to be pampered in the chair, with a towel tucked into the collar, hot towels to prepare skin, rich lather and that straight razor. During our visit, with a customer in the chair and one waiting, there was no lack of jokes, banter and a sense that this indeed is not a bad place to while away some time. And to top it off (so to speak), a splendid haircut.

Mr. Le Barnes also hopes to introduce the community to a service that was popular in the 1920s–men’s facials. A spa staple for women for many years, men’s facials are again gaining popularity both nationally and in this area. As Mr. Le Barnes explains it, he starts with a hot towel, left on until cool. He then applies massage cream and would massage the face. Then comes another hot towel, followed by the application of cleansing cream. That is removed with a third hot towel, after which he would apply a facial mask. The mask, left on until dry, is removed by a forth hot towel. The final step is the application of an astringent or cold towel to close the pores. The entire process requires approximately 25 or so minutes.

But believing that his male customers will find a woman’s touch–literally–more acceptable, he is seeking a female barber to provide the facials on Mondays. The sentiment sampled during our visit confirmed both interest in the service and the preferred gender of the person to apply it.

With several businesses having closed in the area over the past few years, a small, but stalwart step in the right direction is the opening of Johnny’s Barber Shop. Located at 559 Route 20, no appointments are needed; you just walk right in. And who knows, maybe that will be James Dean in the chair next to you. 

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