The Old Familiar Barber Shop (OFBS) in Columbus, Ohio, embodies traditional indulgence along with the business acumen of the new age. Many small businesses throughout the United States are thriving on the same vintage appeal represented at OFBS, with its flair of the past and appeal of the future. Each of these shops, though similar, stand out in their own ways. OFBS is a small business which is evolving and impacting the community in big ways. The shop’s owners are finely groomed visionaries; not only in the fashion sense, but in the branding of their business as well.
The shop’s founders, Kenji Prince and Josh Wilbur, genuinely love what they do. Walking in the doors of the Old Familiar Barber Shop gives the client a feeling of exactly what its name implies, that “old familiar” sensation of friendship and comfort. It almost feels like coming home, that is, if one’s home was one where pampering was common. Clients are greeted with a smile and a nod. There are magazines, both clean and “naughty,”which can be viewed while awaiting a cut. Dirty jokes are also included with the wait and the services free of charge. Sitting in the antique stadium-style chairs, clients awaiting their turn can see the passion of these professionals while they artfully practice their craft. The shop once only took clients by appointment, because they did not want to overcrowd or rush the guests’ experience.
In recent months, OFBS began taking walk-ins, and in Wilbur’s words, “We didn’t take them before because we did not have the right person to do it. We want our work to be quality, and wanted someone who would be able to do walk-ins only. We did not want to be rushed with the appointments that we have, and want to give our clients the cuts and care that they deserve. Recently, we found the right guy for the job, so we are now able to take walk-ins, and know that the cut is still being done right.” The new barber joining the team is Patrick Short.
Prince and Wilbur both had experience working at other shops prior to starting their business. Their self-described meeting was, in the dungeons of barber underworld, where they plotted their course to triumph and freedom.
Wilbur states that they opened the shop “for the reason that many people open their own business, I guess, so that we could simply do the work that we wanted to do, our own way. We had both worked for other people, not getting to do the things that we wanted, putting effort into someone else’s style. We wanted to use our ideas, and give the kind of quality we knew we could, so we opened our own shop and started doing things in our own way.”
When asked what sets their shop apart from the many other barber businesses out there, Wilbur stated, “We are a place that provides traditional services, without necessarily being a traditional place. We have many different options for clients when they come in, in terms of hair and grooming, but we also host events like art shows and bachelor parties. We have live music, are active in the community, and Kenji even produces his own line of combs.” The combs the shop makes are metal and multi-functional, doubling not only as a grooming tool, but as a bottle opener as well.
The grooming services that Old Familiar Barber Shop offers vary, but all remain consistent in the aspect of pricing to provide quality work at a reasonable price. Men’s haircuts are $15.00, and if a lady has short hair and fancies the same style, the price remains the same. Another aspect that sets the shop apart in terms of tradition, it that it does allow women to receive its services.
Hair is not the only grooming service that the gentlemen of OFBS provide. They offer shoe shining services, facials, beard trims and coffee as well. One package, deemed “The Hangover Cure,” includes many of these services, including a hot towel and espresso, and is intended as a masculine day at the spa after a long night out. The price for the package, which includes a haircut and style, is $35.00. The shop also offers full wedding services in-house for a price ranging from $40.00 to $100.00. The service is directed by Prince, who has been ordained in eight different ways, and can tailor the ceremony to the couple’s liking. Getting married in a barber shop may not seem like an ideal setting, but the vintage vibe of the shop and the hospitality of its hosts may surprise brides and grooms, and make for one interestingly styled affair.
OFBS will be hosting a few new community-based events this summer. America F*** Yea is the first and will be hosted on July 4. The patriotic-themed day will include music, food, drinks and jokes from the OFBS staff. The barbers will also be hosting the Ohio State Fair’s first Beard and Mustache Contest on July 28. These events are a more public display of their involvement in local community arts and festivals, although their shop year round features work from artists in the local area. The in-shop displays rotate monthly.
Prince and Wilbur take pride in all that their shop represents, and enjoy spreading their branding not only in the shop, but also with car decals, t-shirts and other apparel. Wilbur commented, “We want people to see our logo and know that it is us; that our style is reflected in a bunch of different things, and that it is all reaching people.”
With a wide range of talent and hands that reach not only for razors, but beyond into the business world, the owners of Old Familiar Barber Shop are young in spirit (and age), but old in their souls. Of owning their own business Wilbur stated, “It is great, like we had said, to get to make decisions and guide where things go. We never really have to do something that we don’t want to in terms of work. The worst part is that when stuff hits the fan, it all falls on us, because we are the ones that make the decisions.”
Thus far, the fellas seem happy with their business, and excited to see where it is going to go. They always welcome new clients in addition to opportunities to grow in the community.
Interview by Latasha Alvaro
Interview with Josh Wilbur and Kenji Prince