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Barriers to barbering: Amherst barber, politician pushing for changes to state regulations

  • Matt Haskins, owner of Matt’s Barber Shop, gives regular customer James Roberts of Belchertown a closer look. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Matt Haskins, left, owner of Matt’s Barber Shop in Amherst, and Jonathan Kusek, right, work on haircuts for regular customers James Roberts, center left, of Belchertown, and Griffin Connor, foreground, of Leverett, on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Matt Haskins, owner of Matt’s Barber Shop, uses a straight razor on a haircut for regular customer James Roberts of Belchertown. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Matt Haskins is the owner of Matt's Barber Shop on Boltwood Walk in Amherst. Photographed on Thursday, July 7, 2022. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING



Staff Writer
Monday, August 01, 2022

Anyone who knows “Matt the Barber” Haskins knows he’s a passionate evangelist and practitioner of his trade. But lately, Haskins has stopped bringing up barbering to people in need of a pathway in life, due to the hurdles facing western Massachusetts residents looking to get into the trade.

Why? The nearest barber school is some 60 miles away in Worcester.

“Almost every barber I’ve talked to in western Mass realizes we need some kind of regulatory change,” said Haskins, who points to the long-distance barrier as a primary reason he believes there’s a shortage of barbers in this part of the state.

Haskins, who owns Matt’s Barber Shop, which he founded in 2008, has a solution that he thinks could begin to fill a “deficit of barbers” that is affecting western Massachusetts. Working with Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, Haskins is pushing for a change to state regulations to allow barbers like himself to train students in the barbering curriculum from their barber shops.

This would mean barbers in good standing with the state, like Haskins, could teach out of their shops during their off hours, something current regulations do not allow.

“My goal would be to allow us to hyperlocalize barber training,” Haskins said.

To become a barber in Massachusetts requires completing a 1,000 hours of coursework, which Haskins said can be done in six months if one does 40 hours a week. However, the nearest barber school is in Worcester, a significant drive for western Massachusetts residents.

In testimony before the Cosmetology and Barbering board in April, Domb and Rep. Tackey Chan, the House chair of the Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee, flagged other obstacles, including rules that say that a barber school must have a minimum of 25 students and a separate facility in order to operate in the commonwealth. They said they “would appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with your office to create a more favorable environment for barbering schools to open and operate in the Commonwealth and expand opportunities for Massachusetts residents to learn and deliver this service for the benefit of our community members.”

In his testimony Haskins said roughly 300 regular clients will “completely max out a barber,” and that in a 20-mile radius around his business the population outpaces barbers to the point that “we’re now looking at a ratio of about 6,000 people to every one barber.”

“If we do it as usual, if we kind of just accept the normal timeframe for making change, we won’t be meeting the need that exists right now, and the need will continue to grow,” Domb said. “I can’t believe the data Matt provided us with — 6,000 customers to every barber will be 10,000 customers to every barber, and then western Massachusetts will look a mess because we won’t be able to get our hair cut.”

Division of Occupational Licensure Commissioner Layla D’Emilia wrote back to Domb and Chan later that month, informing them that the board had recently approved draft regulations that would lower the required number of barber school chairs from 25 to 15 and permit schools in certain instances to use the same clinic space for cosmetology and barbering programs, with one taking place during the daytime and the other at night.

Even without bringing it up on his own accord, Haskins said that at least one person a week asks him about getting into barbering. And he’s seen people get discouraged because they don’t want to drive the significant distance for school.

Haskins says reducing the chair requirement for schools and allowing barber programs to share space with cosmetology programs “gets us closer,” noting that these changes will allow tech schools to open barbering programs.

Haskins said that, if there is a chair requirement, it should be three to five chairs.

Domb said that it’s “incredibly important” to have more barbers in western Massachusetts, which she describes as the ultimate small business. Staffing levels, according to Haskins are the “worst it’s ever been,” with many leaving the profession during the pandemic.

Barber reaction

One supporter of Haskins’ efforts is Steve Prondecki, who used to own Prondo’s Barber Shop in Greenfield before selling it two years ago.

“I just couldn’t grow as a business,” said Prondecki, who now works as a barber in Jupiter, Florida. “I couldn’t find barbers to save my life.”

An old friend of Haskins’, Prondecki said that they’ve been trying to figure out the barber shortage for awhile, and he expressed support for Haskins’ efforts to allow barbers to teach from their shops.

“I think that’s a great idea,” Prondecki said.

He said that recruiting locally is easier, and that this would be great for both businesses and job seekers.

Khayyam Mahdi has been a barber for close to 40 years, and has owned Global Cuts International World of Barber Styling in Amherst for 23 years. Mahdi expressed support for allowing barbers to teach out of their shops during off hours.

“I don’t see a problem with that,” Mahdi said, although he said the timing isn’t right for him to do that.

Mahdi said that he hasn’t noticed a shortage of barbers in western Massachusetts.

However, he did say that there needs to be more barber schools.

“It’s a noble profession,” he said.

Mahdi also said that he’d like to see more emphasis in the curriculum on cutting different ethnic types of hair.

Keith Lenkowski, who has owned Razor’s Edge in Easthampton since 1983, said that he hasn’t observed a barber shortage.

“I have people calling me (looking for work),” said Lenkowski.

Lenkowski operates Razor’s Edge as a one-chair shop, and doesn’t have employees.

Haskins, who grew up in Athol, described his impression of the barber he went to as a child, whom he saw was making more money per haircut than his relatives were making per hour in factory work.

“Everybody likes him. Everybody knows who he is,” he said. “He was the first celebrity I ever came in contact with.”

Should he be able to teach the curriculum from his shop, Haskins said he would take on five students for each of his five chairs. He also said that these students could graduate in 12 to 14 months if they did four hours a night on weekdays.

He also expressed optimism that the regulatory changes would work out.

This story includes reporting from the State House News Service. Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.