The legacy of barbershops in Greater Victoria traces back more than 80 years. Competition in town remains hot, so it ‘s worth taking a look at how the barbering industry has shifted and diversified decade by decade, shop by shop.
Jimmy’s Barber Shop
Jimmy Pavlidis, who trained as a barber in Giannitsa, Greece, from age 13, fell in love with Victoria upon a vacation with his wife and moved here in the late ’60s. Today, with 58 years running Jimmy’s Barber Shop and 68 years of total work experience, 84-year-old Pavlidis is Greater Victoria’s longest-serving barber.
Often called “Jimmy the Greek barber,” he first worked here for two years at Gus Papaloukas’s Central Barber business on the corner of Douglas and Broughton streets. Pavlidis’s daughter, who often translates for him and spoke on his behalf, said a plumbing business and subsequent ice cream shop pre-existed in the building Jimmy’s now occupies.
According to her, Pavlidis had told his wife, “I’d love to have this shop. Why ice cream? I love to make barbershop!” while searching Victoria for a potential business space. Two weeks later, the ice cream shop announced it was leaving.
The daughter noted her father’s “prime location” at 728 Fort St. has served his business well through the decades.
People have come from as far as Australia to experience a haircut at Jimmy’s, which accommodates a total four barbers, and numerous Americans frequent the shop whenever they visit Victoria.
“If they’re tourists who come quite often, they’ll go to him for a haircut.”
Others come to Jimmy’s to get traditional straight-razor cuts and prepare for weddings. Pavlidis continues to preserve a ’50s style with his shop and barbering and, in some ways, the business has hardly changed since it began in 1969.
“He’s had customers who’ve pretty much grown up with him.”
Most notably, Jimmy’s still offers its signature inexpensive haircuts at $13. Even when Pavlidis isn’t working, his daughter said, he likes to sit in the shop while watching good friends and long-time customers pass by the window.
“It’s a very social job, which a lot of people enjoy.”
She said having multiple barbershops operating on the same street can cause issues but Greater Victoria’s population density makes up for it. She added that some people prefer to visit just one barber, while others like to try different ones.
“It’s a fashion style, so there’s more demand for it,” the daughter said, explaining that barbering has evolved over generations from standardized haircuts to more detailed and diverse styles.
Pavlidis has also done volunteer barbering at hospitals and care homes and enjoys helping people when he can.
“He says, ‘I love this barbershop. It is my life,’” she said, adding that Pavlidis jokes about the business being more important than his wife.
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Oak Bay Barber Shoppe
Happy Coxford began his business on Oak Bay Avenue in 1991 when he took over a shop from “Lucky Jim,” who built the property and ran his business there starting in 1947. This made the shop the longest continuously-running barber establishment in Greater Victoria.
Coxford, originally from Montreal, moved his business in 2009 to Estevan Village, where he took over a space that’s served as a barbershop since 1960 and was first run by Eric Lovett.
The earlier rise of barbershops in town was triggered by nothing more than supply and demand, Coxford said.
“They were just barbers that offered cuts and shaves to men.”
Immigration in the last 15 years has also changed the industry, he added, and increased the number of local barbershops threefold. “You want to hang a plaque and call yourself a barber, you can do it.”
Coxford, a barber for 40 years, described his business model as “no-nonsense” and old-school. Bills from dozens of currencies around the world cover most of his mirror space. Baseball caps from various sports teams, emergency forces and community organizations deck the shelves high along the walls. And customers in line seat themselves on a wooden pew next to NFL memorabilia and framed photos of Coxford in Jordan and Marilyn Monroe in white.
“Another brilliant rendering,” one satisfied customer exclaimed after his haircut.
“I’m not sure if I come here for the barber or the embarrassment,” another joked, with a third adding it’s always an interesting experience and a good place for conversation.
As Coxford put it, “It really is the last man’s bastion.”
Uomo Modern Barber
Steven Bailey and wife Simona Stramaccioni started their shop in 2002, taking over a business from Pasquale Giordano at Haultain Street and Belmont Avenue.
Giordano, who began training at age 10 in Calabria, Italy, had run the shop for 15 years after operating seven salons in Edmonton. The building itself had seen barbers operating there intermittently since 1943.
Stramaccioni, by contrast, ran an expensive store in Rome during the ’80s while working in celebrity fashion. She and Bailey moved Uomo to Cook Street Village in 2016 and favour traditional scissor haircutting and Italian-style barbering.
Bailey likes to think of the term “barber” more literally – in Italian, “barba” refers to the beard. And Uomo was among the first barbershops in town to offer shaves following the AIDS crisis.
The big controversy is about what a barber is, which Bailey said keeps everyone on their toes.
“That’s a healthy debate in the industry.”
The real “deeper, darker hipster scene” for barbering, he said, started in New York during the late ’90s and early 2000s. Back then, Generation Xers like Bailey didn’t want to settle for a traditional hairdresser or standard barbershop.
“There was a void there,” he said, noting modern barbering evolved organically.
The main challenge now is becoming more tech savvy to reach more people: Uomo focuses on baby boomers and generation Xers. “I think you’ve got to pick your battle and just stick with it. We’re reaching a point now where the (barbers) who are good will do great and the ones who aren’t will struggle to stay alive.”
The industry is turning back to hairdressing, and younger men are wanting more brow bars and perms, he said.
“Men have definitely become more particular about how they look over the last decade, for sure.”
Though Uomo continues to prioritize traditional Italian and European barbering styles, Bailey enjoys the healthy competition between Greater Victoria’s barbers.
The legacy of this shop began in 1999, when brothers Visar and Artor Gashi arrived in Victoria after volunteering in the war in Kosovo and fleeing their home for safety abroad.
The brothers worked at Jimmy’s for a while before starting their own shop just up the block on Fort Street in 2015. A few years ago they opened a second shop on Goldstream Avenue in Langford, where Visar’s daughter, Zana, works with Artor.
“We kind of try to be a family business,” Visar said. Having served three or four generations in some families, they aim to run a barbershop that’s universal in the way Canada is, he added.
“You can be brother and sister with all the world.”
Through the down times of the pandemic and subsequent recovery, Visar said his busy downtown shop can fool customers into thinking business is booming, when in reality it’s often struggling. The number of staff at Brothers has fluctuated during the pandemic.
“But our clients, they never let us down. I wish I could thank all of them, one by one.”
Visar, 45, said he could easily find a cheaper downtown space for the business, but doesn’t because he feels he’s grown up as a barber in the 700-block of Fort Street. A restaurant fire in 2013 closed several businesses for a while and when Oscar and Libby’s moved across the street, Visar and his brother, ready to move on from Jimmy’s, seized the opportunity.
“I know how to make money in this business. I know this business better than any barber in Victoria.”
Visar said he resists raising prices for fear of losing his dearest clients, some of whom care for three or four kids. As he put it, he’s chosen to work more enjoyably for less money than the opposite.
“You have to respect (the client) first to win that respect,” he said, calling his clients “holy” people. “If he’s homeless or he’s a big businessman, builder, whatever, everybody comes here (and) we treat them the same.”
For now he’s happy with Brothers as is, but noted barbering once had a simpler and more classic look and feel.
“Now they do it more like an all-in-one – hairdressing, barbering, styling, things like that,” he said, adding the once standardized price for a haircut has risen as much as 150 per cent in some places.
While skin fades are popular among younger men, Visar said his shop can deliver any kind of hair style to any kind of customer. Brothers also gives charity haircuts annually for the Canadian Cancer Society’s Cops for Cancer fundraiser and will do so this year at its Langford shop on Sept. 11.
Status Barber Shop
Troy Wilson opened his shop in September 2009 and in that time has seen the barber population going from one per neighbourhood to all around Greater Victoria.
Describing barbering as an ever-evolving profession that’s now “one of the hottest young trending trades out there,” he said, “the industry has blown up. It’s on fire.”
Originally from Halifax, Wilson cut hair in his high school locker room and trained under an older barber from Italy while attending Western Connecticut State University. He went on to balance barbering with teaching at Esquimalt High School for 22 years.
Now he runs Victoria’s “most culturally diverse barbershop.” Status draws a more mature clientele and largely follows European trends, but Wilson said there’s not a texture of African, Asian or Caribbean hairstyle his staff doesn’t know.
“Quality over quantity has always been our motto,” he added. “A good haircut will get you in the door, but a great haircut will keep you coming back.”
Women professionals, who often come equipped with a background in styling, blow-drying and rolling, are starting to take over the barbering trade, he noted.
Status prides itself on community involvement and cuts hair for charity at Victoria HarbourCats and Westshore Rebels games. Wilson’s 10-chair shop houses a versatile staff and, sporting an LGBTQ flag in the window, provides a friendly and accommodating space for all.
Like he said, “you don’t pay for the hair, you pay for the style.”
So, the next time you visit your local barber for a trim, consider inquiring about their history, style and evolution over time. They might just be one of the trendiest or longest-serving barbershops Greater Victoria has to offer.
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