By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
Sometimes something as simple as a barbershop is the ideal economic indicator.
Remember local barbershops? They were in every neighborhood, and many times, at least in male circles, they were the center of those neighborhoods.
They were the places where men met, shared news and formed what often became life-long relationships.
Barbershops are featured in many movies and long-running television series.
A barbershop was even featured in full length feature film titled Barbershop.
But as central as barbershops are to our neighborhoods, our personal appearance and, yes, our sense of who we are, we see very few of them.
We see stylists, salons and boutiques, but where can we find the humble (and affordable) barbershop?
With their red-white-and-blue-striped poles, dark Naugahyde chairs and straight-razor shaves, barbershops hold a special place in American culture.
According to the U.S. Census, from 1992 to 2012 we saw a 23 percent decrease in barbershops in the United States (with a slight but steady uptick since then.).
The first haircut was for most boys, the first introduction to public manhood.
Haircuts were a routine feature of holding a public appearance.
The “regulars” came by for a cut or a trim once a month or even every few weeks.
To put it mildly, the economy has not been kind to barbershops.
Some of us got our hair cut or trimmed less (or even far less) than monthly.
Others went for more elaborate styling than the average barbershop offered.
And they were willing to pay more.
Locally owned and operated barbershops tended to disappear – and many shut down or became so trendy that they were unrecognizable.
COVID, fashion sensibilities and the economy drove the humble barbershop nearly into oblivion.
But a few remain.
And those remaining few tell us a story about our economy.
Who wouldn’t want a barbershop where you get personal attention, affordable detail and someone who knows your name when you walk in the door?
Yes, those places still exist – and not just in the movies.
One of the most historic is the Westgate Barber on Pearl just before Point Defiance.
The Westgate Barber was, for decades, at, ahem, Westgate on North 30th and Pearl.
A change in ownership brought an increase in rents, driving many longtime commercial residents out, including what was, even then one of the few barbershops north of 6th Avenue.
Westgate Barber’s current owner has been a barber since 1977 and has seen generation after generation come in for their first, or regular, or even final haircut.
As I mentioned, Westgate Barber is no longer at Westgate, and technically, it’s not even still in Tacoma (it’s in Ruston).
But it is still in business.
If you’ve tried the slick and anonymous chains and the over-priced boutiques, give this old-school, local, family-owned place a try.
And unlike the traditional male-only clientele, they do women’s hair as well.
You can see their Yelp reviews here.
There are only three barbers there, you will quickly learn their names.
And, after a time or two, you too will be remembered and welcomed by name.
Westgate Barber is a reminder of what local business used to mean. Get there while you can.