by Kevin Dicciani
“I bring the old school to a modern setting, a modern client,” said William Brown, owner of Chestnut Hill’s newest and only barber shop, The Duke Barber Co., 7946 Germantown Avenue. “My whole slogan is ‘classic traditions in a modern world.’”
Being a fifth generation barber, Brown, 34, knows quite a bit about tradition. He grew up doing odd jobs in his family’s barber shops, and he first started cutting hair when he was 12 years old. The decision to become a barber, then, seems natural given his family’s rich history.
Six years ago Brown opened The Duke’s first location in Northern Liberties. The figure of the duke, Brown said, is that of a sentinel, a role Brown wants the barber shop to represent in this neighborhood.
“The definition of the duke is basically a royal figure that surveys and protects the area, so that’s what we set out to do with our barber services,” he said.
The original shop began with two chairs. Because of the positive reception he received from clientèle, Brown had to expand three times, eventually winding up with a total of nine chairs – not to mention a bar and a cigar lounge in the back of the shop. Because of the success, Brown wanted to further grow his business and passion.
The decision to open a shop in Chestnut Hill was a relatively simple one for Brown to make. He grew up in Germantown, which he said is a big part of family’s history, and graduated from from what was then J.S. Jenks Elementary School (His sister graduated from Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, the school his daughter will attend, and his son goes to Children of America). Brown’s grandfather was also an associate of the late Hill barber Frank Salemno, who died in 2014.
“I have deep roots here,” Brown said.
The Duke Barber Co. had its grand opening on Saturday, Aug. 8. The event featured a food truck – the Meat Wagon Barbecue – a barber shop quartet, raffles, giveaways, whiskey tastings, and special $2 haircuts. For the many who showed up, it was clear The Duke was not your average barber shop.
Brown said the shop’s niche is that it offers customers a complimentary drink, typically a beer, while they’re waiting for a haircut. Other times, Brown said, the receptionists will double as bartenders and fix special cocktails tailored to the customers’ taste.
If you prefer stronger drink or you’re a connoisseur, the shop hosts Whiskey Fridays, giving customers a chance at the end of the week to settle into one of the plush leather chairs and unwind with a glass of whiskey, as if they were in the comfort of their own homes.
“Our niche is to serve while we serve,” Brown said. “We like to make the guy feel like he’s in his living room or cave by creating a relaxing setting, so he can leave the outside outside.”
The whiskey, Brown said, serves two purposes: it makes the clients happy, and it pays homage to the barbers of the past, the “old, old school barbers.”
“Whiskey used to be the antiseptic of choice for barbers,” Brown said. “So not only did we use it, but we liked to drink it as well.”
As well as providing retail, such as hair and skin care products, The Duke will offer other services usually not seen in modern day barber shops, such as a watch repair service. Brown said the shop will have a watch drop-off and pick-up service where clients can drop off their timepiece, whether it’s a Timex or a Rolex, and a certified watch repairmen will make it run and look as good as new.
Aside from the amenities, Brown said the shop offers traditional haircuts and straight razor shaves, the latter of which are the shop’s specialty, as evidenced by the “Best of Philly” award it won for Best Shave. But again, Brown, keeping one foot firmly planted in tradition, at the same time steps forward into modernity to satisfy today’s client.
“I believe that our clients are way more in tune with their self-appearance now,” Brown said. “It’s not just ‘Sit in a chair, we’ll turn you around, here’s a high-and-tight.’ We actually consult with you, we walk through your haircut with you, and we make sure that’s what you want.”
Brown said the client-barber relationship is an important one – a lost art – and it’s one of the reasons he’s worked so hard at crafting a memorable experience for his customers. His goal is to make The Duke Barber Co. a classic yet modern experience, an eclectic mixture of therapy, fashion and grooming advice, and, most importantly, a place for camaraderie.
“Like a true barber shop, we’re like a cornerstone of the community,” Brown said. “It’s a congregating space for gentlemen to come in, to get their services, network with others, and leave it all behind outside. When you come in here, it’s sort of like Vegas rules: What happens in the barber shop stays in the barber shop.”
For a list of services and more information, visit www.dukebarberco.com.