On Ave. C, Cutting Hair, Hanging Out

On a recent Saturday, the line at Perfection Barbershop on Avenue C near East Third Street extended from the leather bench inside, through the door jam, all the way to the curb where men leaned on parked cars.

When the shop’s co-owner, Hubert Phillip, 27, takes a break to talk he leans on a car and five or six passing customers offer their fists for a pound. The scene is repeated almost daily at Perfection, a barber shop that is as bustling as any nightclub. But here, it seems like just about everyone already knows each other.

“You walk in the door and it’s like seeing your brothers and your cousins,” said Mr. Phillip, who is known as Cuban or Q Nice. “We tell each other what’s going on in our lives when we cut hair.”

Barber shops serving as social centers and neighborhood gathering places is hardly a new development. But what’s noteworthy about Perfection is how quickly – it’s barely been open a year – it seems to have become a focal point of the neighborhood.

The shop’s size may be a reason everyone feels so at home. Perfection is so small that the barbers must move deftly to avoid colliding with one another as they spin customers in black leather chairs, razors in hand. Montilla Ultimo, better known as Willy the barber, waves a can of hair spray through the air and sprays his customer to keep his hairline straight. He manages to shower everyone’s ankles with the goo.

Mr. Phillip smiles frequently as he surveys the scene. He said that many people questioned the wisdom of opening the shop when he and his partner, Desmond Munford, first floated the idea.

“It was the recession and everyone was saying don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” he said. “But this is the only basket I got so I did put it all in.”

That basket is now outfitted with a flat screen television, wood-trimmed chairs and a stream of loyal customer like Ray Rodriguez, who followed Mr. Phillip to Perfection after he left another shop.

“This is his own shop and it’s not like others,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “Some barbers take forever. When you’re in there everybody’s talking and he doesn’t keep you waiting.”

In fact, it’s often Mr. Phillip who does the waiting. To accommodate the growing client base, he and his fellow barbers will often stay open until there are no customers left in line. It is not uncommon to see the barbers at Perfection working until close to midnight. The effort, Mr. Phillip said, is worth it. “A haircut is 80 percent of where the night will take you,” he said.

“A good hair cut is key,” client Josh Fein said. “That’s why I’ve been coming to Cuban. At the old shop he’d stay later after all the other guys left to keep cutting hair and then we’d all just hang out.”

Mr. Phillip nods when he hears customers share those stories. “I’m happy to just pop the gate and have everybody coming up and saying, ‘How you doing Cuban?'”