My name is Farzad Salehi and I have been a barber for thirty-one years. I started apprenticing at the age of twenty in my home country, Iran in a city called Isfahan, but was already cutting my friends’ hair at home a few years before that.
I have proudly owned and operated my own barber shop in Vancouver, Canada, with my wife, Shelley, since February 2006. Farzad’s Barber Shop is a traditional, two-chair barber shop, providing men’s haircuts and straight razor shaves. We have one other barber, Noriko Matsuguchi, who has been with us for almost eleven years now, and Shelley manages all aspects of the business.
Growing up in Iran at the time I did, I lived through war and the Iranian revolution and what that did to the country and to me as a young person growing up there while trying to find my own identity in a time of great restrictions of freedom and self-expression. I decided that I had to leave Iran and it took me two and a half years to make my way across Europe with some struggles and dangerous situations along the way. I finally arrived in Vancouver as a refugee on October 26, 1994, and I couldn’t speak English and had only $100 US in my pocket. The first Canadian person I met after the immigration officer, on the first night I arrived in Canada, was Shelley. I stayed with the only family I knew in Vancouver when I first arrived, that was my cousin, and Shelley was his roommate! I wanted to find work as soon as possible so the first job I took was as a dishwasher for four hours a day in a food court restaurant in Vancouver’s downtown business core. My cousin worked at a hair salon/barbershop in the same retail mall where I washed dishes and told his boss that I was a barber looking for work. He gave me an opportunity, so I started working there only on Saturdays for a few months. I proved myself and one day the boss asked me if I could start working there full-time. I told him I could, but that I would have to give notice at my other job first. From that point on, in 1995, I have been working as a barber in Canada ever since.
In 2005 after almost eleven years in Canada I felt the time was right to start looking for a location to open my own shop, and Shelley and I started discussing this very seriously. One day in October of 2005 I decided to go out for a walk and see if I could find any potential spaces available that might be suitable for a barber shop. I wasn’t sure exactly where, I just knew I wanted to be somewhere in downtown Vancouver, and I ended up in the Yaletown neighbourhood, seeing this empty space inside the old Murchies Building at the corner of Homer and Davie streets. I immediately saw what the shop would look like, from the placement of the chairs and sinks (2 of each), to the wood panelling on the walls, even though the space was nothing but drywall, a rough, uneven concrete floor, had thick coats of white paint on the two large windows, and no existing plumbing. By the end of November I had signed the lease and began the process of deciding on and registering the name of the business, and applying for all the necessary permits to start work. I got to work immediately, going after hours when I finished work at the shop where I was working at the time, and weekends, stripping all those thick white coats of paint from the woodframed windows. Shelley and I went shopping for tiles after deciding on a black and white checkerboard floor and then myself and my cousin who was a huge help in building the shop, began laying the ceramic tiles, putting up some of the wood panelling, painting the walls, and staining the window frames. The whole process to complete the work took about two months, with the bulk of the work (plumbing, electrical, cabinet installation) happening during the second half of January 2006, as there had been some rather stressful and puzzling delays trying to get the strata’s approval to start building. The final inspection was set for the morning of February 6, 2006 and when all was approved I asked the building inspector, “So what’s next?”, to which the inspector replied, “Start cutting hair!”
When we opened in 2006, and for several years after that, Farzad’s Barber shop was the only barber shop in the neighbourhood and I think people really liked the fact that here was an “old school barber shop” and not another salon. Obviously it took some time in the beginning for the word to get around and for the business to grow, but because there was such a positive response it didn’t take too long for the shop to get busier and busier, and now, eleven years later, it feels fantastic to still be fully booked six days a week, twelve hours a day and for our clients still to see us as the “neighbourhood barber shop”. The majority of our clients work and/or live in and around Yaletown and Vancouver’s downtown core but we also have many clients who come from all parts of the city and the lower mainland, and some who come to see us from different parts of the world when they make a trip to Vancouver! We couldn’t be happier and we never take anything for granted.
I am excited every day I go to work. The official shop hours show that we open at 9am but I usually take my first client at 7:30am every day which means I leave home about 6:45 for my half-hour walk, getting to the shop by 7:15 so I’m ready to go for my first client. Then I’m typically booked solid all day until 6:30pm except for half an hour for lunch. By the time we clean and cash out it is usually about 7:00 by the time we leave the shop and home by 7:30 after another half-hour walk. I feel so lucky to be able to do this; to come to a place every day that I love, giving haircuts and shaves and seeing people happy relaxed when they sit in my chair, having different conversations every half hour and also building a unique and personal relationship with every client. I also feel extremely lucky to be able to work every day beside Shelley, my wife and business partner, and beside Noriko, one of the best barbers I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. We all put our hearts into this little barber shop to make it what it is! People often ask if we think about expanding or opening up another location, and from time to time the idea can be tempting. Over the past couple of years I’ve been fortunate to have been asked to travel and give shaving classes and workshops, both here in BC and in several cities around the world with more requests coming in, and these are great opportunities if I can manage to work around our schedule at the shop. The truth is that we have established this little family-run barber shop in a busy, vibrant neighbourhood, and we have the best clients anyone could ever hope to have. We work hard to keep this small shop going because we love what we do and love coming to work every day. This is what we want and hope to maintain in the coming years and we are always grateful for the continued support from our incredible clients, so we can keep going! I will finish it with a Persian expression: The bigger roof you have the more snow you have to shovel!