February 2014

Steve Sleeper

Snips and Clips Around the Northwest | by Sinnamon Harris


One Man's Mission to Create a Resurgence of the Barber Shop

Chris Espinoza didn't start out to become an entrepreneur when he followed his dream of opening a barber shop; but three highly successful years later he is living the dream. The Modern Man Barber Shop and Gentlemen's Supply currently has three thriving barbershops within Portland. These are not your ordinary barber shops. These shops, as heralded by Details Magazine, are salons "that go beyond the cut."

"I had this idea of a prohibition-era style barber shop while still in beauty college," smiled Espinoza, "I wished the next generation to have the same type of fond memories of "old" barbershops that I enjoyed while growing up and going to the barber shop with my father."

Chris Espinoza and co-owner wife Emily have been very fortunate in securing venues in areas of Portland where urban revitalization is prominent in stunning new apartments, specialty bistros and boutique shops. The first The Modern Man Barber Shop and Gentlemen's Supply opening in September of 2011 was in the Alberta district at 5018 NE 22nd Ave. This charming two-story building boasts a wild west theme complete with deer, bison and ram heads, mounted fish, snowshoes, and a canoe converted into shelving. The second story also hosts the whiskey room bar.

Espinoza's father had owned an antique shop in Ashland and when he closed down to help out with the barber shops, Chris had a source for all the fine little atmospheric touches. Paul Nieminen manages the barber shop while loquacious Daniel Passera handles the upstairs whiskey bar.

Walking into the 4538 SE Hawthorne Blvd. location is like stepping back into Victorian Sherlock Holmes library. Jarred oddities such as a mega-sized toad and skin of a rattle snake sit upon the mantle of the ornate fireplace. Floor to ceiling bookshelves also hold the collection of gentlemen's supplies while pillars made up of books appear to hold up the ceiling. Leather sofas add cozy comfort for waiting patrons as well as a leather-upholstered shoe shine stand. The whiskey bar stands prominent at the back of the room.

Espinoza is especially proud of the commissioned painting that graces the wall above the fireplace and rightfully so. The painting, by renowned Portland artist Jonathan Case, symbolizes Portland's love of bicycles while incorporating the barber shop. The shops barber chairs are ornate overstuffed modern versions of those comfy chairs of bygone days. Zachary Dilday manages the day-to-day operations here while the Director of Operations for all three locations is Cody Morrison.

The 3956 N Mississippi Ave venue supports Espinoza's love of old trains with the barber shop set up as a train station. You can tell gregarious manager Kelley Howell loves the venue! He shared a little remembered fact that the railway used to run down the middle of Mississippi Ave in the 1800s. There's a sweet story behind the antique barber chair that sits in the window of the shop. There was a little barber shop in St. John's where Chris would go with his father for their haircuts. The barber Bob Moore, since retired, presented it to Chris.

Past the short hallway with antique theater seats and memorabilia on the walls is the train stations "ticket" counter that serves as check-in. High ceilings with pendulous lights and antique luggage supporting the ten barber station's counters add to the feeling of walking into a train station. This venue has a hidden secret: A speakeasy located down a cleverly replicated mine shaft. Down the long hallway lit by antique train lanterns lies the train-engine bar. Cozy "first class" accommodations that include a table within the curtained nook have video monitors with an antique facade that runs black and white scenes as if on a moving train.

Each venue has a unique masculine setting that adds to the relaxing atmosphere and all the old-time-barber pampering, such as hot towel straight razor shaves. As you check-in for your appointment you are offered either a shot of Snake River Stampede Whiskey or James Oliver Rye from Indio Spirits or a Widmer Brothers microbrew.

And the haircuts? No perms, no coloring, but a whole lot of different "looks;" created by seasoned barbers who thrive on providing the ultimate experience. While you have your "traditional cuts" you will also find that they are experts on any modern cuts, crew cuts, high & tights, medium regs, tapers, flat tops, and pompadours! And as full-service barbers they also spruce up your beard and trim the mustache. Need a shoe shine? They provide that service also!

The Modern Man Barber Shop and Gentlemen's Supply has all the necessary products on hand to complete your grooming. Chris Espinoza prides himself on supporting local vendors wherever possible, as for example, local mustache waxes, beard balms, and hand-kiln shaving mugs. There are colognes, aftershave, pre-shave oils, mustache wax, beard balms, gels, pomades, greases, shave soaps, straight razors, safety razors, shaving kits, and shoe polish all for purchase in the shops so the special look can be maintained at home.

In fact, Espinoza had three customized colognes created just for Modern Man, by Andrew Fuller, called Dawn, Dusk and Dark. They stock a fragrance bar so patrons may add a splash before they walk out the door to complete their grooming. It's easy to see why men are congregating into The Modern Man Barber Shops and Gentlemen's Supply.

What's next for this young entrepreneur? In keeping with his philosophy of creating local employment and supporting local vendors whenever possible, Chris is working on opening a Barber School in Portland within the next six months as he senses a resurgence in the barbering trade.

For more information and links to their Facebook page visit their website: www.themodernmanpdx.com

Sinnamon Harris is a freelance journalist who has written for Portland's former Our Town, LifeStyles Northwest and East County News. She also wrote NW Stylist's Oregon Board News articles from Oct 2011-2012. To be featured in an upcoming issue, please send an email to lisa@stylistnewspapers.com