Looking your best is one of the main concerns – actually let me rephrase that – a main concern, the Lebanese have. It’s just in our nature to have our hair in perfect shape and our nails freshly manicured. Keeping up with style trends and different hairstyles is something that used to be of an acquired behaviour for Lebanese women, whereas a simple haircut at the local barber would suffice for almost any man. However, the times have changed and the style trends are inevitable for both men and women. Today, if you pay close attention, you will notice that men’s hairstyles can range from a simple buzz cut to full on styles and designs that they copy from their celebrity idols. With all these ideas evolving non-stop, it had us wondering whatever happened to the good ol’ classic haircut from your local barber. You know, the one where you would sit and get the full treatment with not a single machine-operated appliance in sight. The barbers that quickly turn into family because each time you cut your hair it turns into a story telling session. Yeah, we’re talking about those barbers.
We went out to find the real reason of the disappearance of our beloved local barbers. To get the real gist of the story we thought we’d visit 3 different barbers Beirut’s Basta. Basta is well known not only for its antiques but also for its family-owned businesses. The close, friendly relationships between business owners and its local residents were the most inspiring aspect when it came to picking our location.
Meet our first barber: Mohammad Saleh also known as Abou Bachir. He first opened shop in 1954 but due to the war he was forced to move up the street, where he opened his current store in 1975. He fell in love with hairdressing the moment he started, at the age of 7 assisting in another local shop. At the age of 12 Abou Bachir thought it was time to open up on his own. His techniques haven’t altered since he started; the only things that get updated in his shop are the necessities, such as scissors. Believe it or not, he still has a 60-year-old dish where his customers can wash off their beards after using shaving cream! Unfortunately with his legacy carrying no bright future, we asked Abou Bachir what the one thing he loved most about his job was. His response left us stunned: “My favorite part of my job are my respectful multi-cultural clients. I’ve had clients come to me from London, Iraq, Egypt and all over the world, and after working with them for so long, I felt like I’ve traveled to most parts of the world, without even leaving my shop.”
Ali Harrouche also known as Abou Hussein. Ali opened his store with a partner at the age of 13. He learned most of the tricks and technique from working and learning from his local barber. His love of never ending creativity is what led him to his passion as a barber. He explained, “When I was younger I had all these ideas in my head and the only way I felt like they truly flourished was as a barber. However, as I got older I realized that the job of a barber isn’t what it used to be and it makes me dislike what I do.” His clientele is strictly from the surrounding neighborhood as he explained to us the people that used to make the effort to come to his shop don’t feel the need to make the trip because of the newer and upscale barbers. However, even with the rise of these upscale barbers – Ali wasn’t one to watch from the sidelines. He upgraded any chance he got; whether it was appliances or décor, he is definitely considered “upscale” in contrast to his neighboring barbers. His favorite part of working was actually the trust his clients put in him. In the past, the barbershop was a place where you would meet your friends, sit, and on occasion get a haircut if you needed it. Ali loved the fact that he knew the problems and stories of every household because his clients would stay for hours seeking advice or just to blow off steam. Even though his children love the job and wouldn’t mind continuing the legacy, Ali won’t allow it. He is scared that his children, like himself, will only be interested in it when they’re young and grow to dislike it when they get older the way he did.
Our last barber that was on our tour was Selman El Khreiss, also known as Abou Ali. He is the only one out of all the barbers we spoke to that continued the business from his father in the same exact store. His father opened the shop in 1947 and by 1970 Abou Ali was calling it his own. You can say fate brought the shop and him together but at first, it wasn’t the love or passion that sparked his career. At the time the business partner was leaving and Abou Ali didn’t want anyone taking over the shop outside the family. Once he started and got the grasp of things, he fell in love with the ideas and creativity that came with it. He was a firm believer of keeping things the way they were when his dad owned the shop – he only changed the bare minimum.. When asked what his favorite part of working in the business, Abou Ali was very, very blunt. “My favorite part has to be the creativity of this job. Also, the fact that it has allowed me to own 3 different houses doesn’t hurt either.”
Sometimes we don’t realize that when we adopt new trends, we are losing something precious in return. And it’s not just the quaint barbershops, with their vintage looking shops we’re losing, but also the hospitality and care that comes with them.
To visit any of the three barbershops, drop by Basta and just ask for them by name!