Inside Roosevelt Barber Shop, Where Old School Meets Modern in Downtown Phoenix

The pole is candy-striped — red, white, gold, and baby blue. It’s fastened to the wall, right in the middle of the shop. It’s the same pole you’d see in any vintage barbershop in the country. For hundreds of years, that pole has told passersby: We cut hair. Come on in.

“We wanted to bring an old-school feel,” says Francisco Torres, co-owner of Roosevelt Barber Shop in downtown Phoenix, which opened its doors in early June near Roosevelt and Seventh streets. Torres is burly and bearded, but everybody knows him as “Junior.” “We wanted to keep the tradition. There’s a modern twist to it, though.”

When founder Frank Medina first considered starting a barbershop downtown, he pictured this mix of old and new styles: The two-room space is bright and welcoming, with black leather sofas and large windows that face the street. You can ask for a shave, and the stylists will use an actual straight razor. A typical haircut costs $20, a shave $25. Most men’s cuts are fairly simple, but they cover a range of styles, from fades to buzz cuts to fauxhawks. The floors are polished hardwood, and the four antique-looking chairs were actually taken from older barbershops and refurbished.

“It was really expensive,” says Medina. “But they look great. That’s the look we’re going for.”

On the other hand, the place has hints of contemporary urban style. Medina and Torres have decorated their space with modern art: The barber-themed paintings of Mike Royal feature Mexican skulls and a street-art aesthetic. Ray Rivas’ portraits depict hip-hop artists in mid-performance. In coming months, they plan to deck every wall with local works.

There’s even a hospitality hook: The moment you walk into Roosevelt Barber Shop, one of the men will offer you water, a soft drink, or a beer.

“A beer? Like a beer beer?” asked a new customer the other day.

“Yeah, man,” Torres replied with a guffaw. “We’ve got Stella on tap.”

The shop doesn’t have a liquor license, but the idea is to lubricate customers with free booze. The kind of beer will rotate regularly, and in keeping with their “local first” philosophy, Torres and Hernandez are hoping to showcase Phoenix craft brews.

But their bigger vision can’t be rushed. They hope that the shop will become a place to socialize. All of their clients are men, and like those neighborhood coiffeurs of decades past, the Roosevelt location is a place to gab and banter.

“I worked at franchise barber shops for years,” says Torres. “I hated it. There’s no character. I couldn’t be myself.”

“I saw this meme,” remembers Albert Rodriguez, the shop’s one employee. “It said, ‘Men feel worse cheating on their barber than they do cheating on their wives.’ It gets real personal. A lot of barbers shops, they don’t have the heart for it. But people come in here, they talk about their work, they talk about their marriage. It’s like a relief."

Rodriguez was licensed as a barber nine years ago, and he met Medina while they were both studying hair. Rodriguez has worked downtown for many years, but when his relationship with another stylist soured, he visited the newly opened Roosevelt Barber Shop and asked Medina about working there. “They wanted me to start that day,” Rodriguez remembers with a laugh.

All three men agree that it is the communal culture of Roosevelt Row that makes the barbershop possible. “People have been really supportive, really humble,” Torres says. The foot-traffic and cozy social scene have been a boon for the young business.

While the trio have been actively cutting hair since early June, the shop’s official grand opening took place on First Friday on July 3. Local artist Gabriel Hernandez performed live painting during the festivities in front of a blinding floodlight.

“The best way to tell people about it has been word of mouth,” says Rodriguez. “We’re getting about 20 new walk-ins a week.”

Roosevelt Row Barber Shop is located E. 610 Roosevelt St., Suite 152, in downtown Phoenix. See www.rooseveltbarbershop.com.

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