Most people think of shaving brushes, hot towels and straight razors as relics of a long-forgotten era, and they assume the traditional barber joined the milkman and the soda jerk in the antiquated oblivion of obsolete professions.
Much to the delight of the discerning gentleman, however, the tonsorial arts are alive and well at the Barbary Shoppe in Lakewood Ranch.
The Barbary Shoppe hearkens to an era when men’s grooming came with a side of luxury; when getting a shave and haircut served as a relaxing respite from the stress of everyday living, rather than another item on a list of errands.
“I’m old enough to remember traditional barber shops, and I noticed that none of the modern shops I found provided the services I was used to,” said Barry Rainwater, who opened the Barbary Shoppe in 2006 with his wife, Lynn.
“Most barber shops these days are run down. We saw a neglected service and decided to open our own,” he added.
Rainwater is well versed in the history of the tonsorial tradition, which dates as far back as the days of the ancient Romans. “Barba,” he explained, is the Latin word for “beard” from which the profession takes its name.
With the advent of the safety razor at the turn of the 20th century, followed by the drastic changes in men’s fashion and grooming habits in the 1960s and 1970s, barbershops became a thing of the past, replaced by the convenience of unisex hair salons.
“People today think that getting a manicure, a massage and aromatherapy treatment is something that only ‘metrosexual’ men do, but in reality, those are services that have been available to men as far back as ancient Greece,” Rainwater said.
“Men used to be able to take advantage of those services at traditional barbershops, but there just aren’t many around anymore.”
The Barbary Shoppe offers a variety of services for all ethnicities, ranging from the $19 no-frills Gentleman’s Essential Haircut to the $48 Gentleman’s Luxury Haircut, complete with a classic barber facial or scalp treatment and signature haircut.
Additional services include gray-away blending and highlights, a full range of shave services, hand and foot services and private massage therapy.
“Most any unisex salon you walk into and ask for a straight razor shave will tell you ‘Nobody does that anymore’ or ‘It’s against the law’ because cosmetologists are not trained or licensed to do shaves anymore,” Rainwater explained.
“It’s a really involved process, and you have to have all the equipment. But our shop has custom stations, complete with a latherizer machine, sink and hot towel cabinet. We also have a training school within the shop for our new hires, as most schools don’t teach the art of shaving anymore,” he said.
Seven barbers currently work at the Barbary Shoppe, four of whom are Master Barbers, meaning that they have four or more years experience working in the shop and are proficient in teaching the trade to new hires.
Pat Grillo, formerly of Manhattan, is one of the Barbary Shoppe’s Master Barbers. His former clients include celebrities like Tony Curtis, Steve McQueen and others.
“We actually get quite a few celebrities and professional sports players in here,” said Rainwater. “There are quite a few who live in Lakewood Ranch and have become regular customers.”
The Barbary Shoppe carries several lines of gentlemen’s hygiene products including Truefitt & Hill, Geo F Trumper and Penhaligon’s; as well as a variety of shaving brushes imported from Germany and England. In fact, Rainwater is required to carry a fur trader’s license to sell the premium silver tip badger hair brushes he as imported from overseas.
In addition to luxury gentleman’s grooming products, the Barbary Shoppe carries a wide range of premium cigar brands such as Ashton, Arturo Fuente, Macanudo, Montecristo, Oliva, Padilla, Rocky Patel and Romeo y Julieta. And the shop made one modern addition, a convenient online scheduling service.
In 2008, the Barbary Shoppe shipped 400 new shaving brushes to the troops in Iraq, purchased by store customers. The shop also collected used shaving brushes from their customers, some dating as far back as World War II, to donate to the troops.
“In a desert environment, it can be very difficult to get sand out of weapons,” Rainwater said, “and the Army-grade toothbrush for cleaning is not always very effective. Badger hair is light and fluffy, so it’s much more effective.”
Each brush was accompanied by a personal message from the customer who purchased or donated the brush for the soldier.
“Running a business like this requires us to really be part of the community in every way we can,” Rainwater said. “Most small businesses fail within the first five years, but we’re here to stay. It’s a product of constant vigilance and dedication to customer service and the community. Not a day goes by that we aren’t on top of our game.”
This story first appeared on Bradenton Patch.