Barbershops are part of the iconic makeup of a community. Razors have been found among relics dating back to 3500BC, and in many cultures barbers were highly respected as priests and men of medicine. Rome was introduced to barbering by the Greeks, and their shops became the center for debates and gossip. A young man’s first shave was part of the coming of age ceremony and as important as a visit to the public baths.
Fred’s Barbershop, located on Military East, is a Benicia institution with its iconic barber pole next to the large front window—revealing if Fred is there, who is in the chair, and if there is a wait. Generations of Benicia men have had Fred or his late brother, Richard, give them their first haircut, and perhaps their last. He has weathered the trends such as long hair and the hippie movement, a recession and the era of salons. If you want to know what's going on in town, Fred's is the place to get the latest scoop and the pulse of the community. With its wood paneled walls, racks of worn magazines and the never ending television daytime dramas as a background, men find a place where they can go and get a really good haircut for an affordable price without a lot of hassle. When my boys were young, I would drop them off after school or in between sports practices, never wanting to infringe on the barbershop mystique.
If finding Fred at the chair is a challenge, there are other alternatives in Benicia that offer men full service grooming. Dave's Barbershop and Shaving Parlor on First Street has had rave reviews for its old school vibe and back to the future barbering. Dave offers a variety of shaves and beard trims, along with classic and edgy high skin fade haircuts, popularized by Justin Bieber and David Beckham.
Barbershops are on trend as men choose shorter hair or no hair that needs to be cut/shaved on a regular basis. Barbers are trained and must be licensed in the State of California to work with straight razors, used to shave faces, necks, and scalps. Cosmetology and barber school are two of the fastest growing industries in the country, according to anythingresearch.com. Charles Kirkpatrick, the executive officer of the National Association of Barber Boards of America, recently told the New York Times the number of licensed barbers had grown roughly 10 percent in the last two years from 225,000 to 245,000.
The barbershop trend is filling a niche for men, since there was no middle ground between high-end salons and low-end chain shops. There is a huge resurgence, as entrepreneurs from coast to coast, and internationally, seek to redefine the haircut from a weekend errand to a pleasant cultural experience.
In New Orleans barbershop Aidan Gill, customers are greeted by a barber in a bow tie and neat shirt offering a choice of whiskey, local beer or soft drink before being seated. Women are relegated to the front of the store, where they can peruse the selection of razors, aftershaves and gifts, including books such as How to Raise a Gentleman. The back of the shop, where the haircutting happens, is for men only. It's no wonder the establishment made Playboy Magazine's top pick for America's best barbershop.
Gill, who is credited for resurrecting the concept of the barbershop, is honoring the trade's past, while trying to redefine its future. He's at the forefront of a trend that has been sweeping the nation over the past few years: the renaissance of the American barbershop and the rise of hip, young boutique salons.
Fortunately, Benicia is part of that renaissance, offering the male population the authentic and "cutting edge" of an old-school cut and shave, along with a bit of town gossip.