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Faithful customers do more than their part for favorite barbershop

  • Mindy Isabelle, owner of The Barber Shop in Amherst, cuts Gavin Mariani's hair Wednesday afternoon. STAFF PHOTOCAROL LOLLIS

  • Mindy Isabelle, who has owned The Barber Shop in Amherst for the last 20 years, cuts Gavin Mariani’s hair at the shop in Amherst recently. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • One of the items in The Barber Shop, owned by Mindy Isabelle, in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Mindy Isabelle, who has owned The Barber Shop in Amherst for the last 20 years, cuts Gavin Mariani's hair at the shop in Amherst Wednesday afternoon. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The Barber Shop, a long-running institution in North Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Mindy Isabelle, who has owned The Barber Shop in Amherst for the last 20 years, cuts Gavin Mariani's hair at the shop in Amherst Wednesday afternoon. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS



Staff Writer
Monday, January 11, 2021

AMHERST — For decades, The Barber Shop has been a community touchstone and meeting place. Now, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, its owner is trying to keep the North Amherst institution alive, and she’s getting some help from a crowdfunding effort that’s already raised more than $6,000.

“I would do anything to keep The Barber Shop open,” said Mindy Isabelle, who took over the one-chair shop in 2002. In addition to being the shop’s owner, Isabelle is also its sole employee.

She said she had no idea about the fundraiser until it was launched on GoFundMe.

“It was a bunch of kids in my barbershop who have grown up there,” she said. “I had no idea that they were going to end up doing it.”

Katherine Borden, 18, and her younger sister Julia, are the kids that set up the crowdfunding effort and both have been getting their hair cut by Isabelle their entire lives.

“Everyone who meets her loves her,” Katherine said.

Waiting at The Barber Shop, she said, is an even more enjoyable experience than a haircut. And she described the shop as “one of the parts of Amherst that makes Amherst Amherst.”

“We wouldn’t let it close,” she said.

Isabelle grew up in North Amherst, and her brother used to get his hair cut at The Barber Shop by its original proprietor, Vivianne Maxon.

Maxon started the shop in the 1970s. Originally from Sweden, Maxon would return to the Scandanavian country for two months out of the year, and it was during those periods that Isabelle started to cut hair as a kid and as a teenager.

“Moms would give me two or three dollars to cut their (children’s) hair,” Isabelle said.

Isabelle went to barber school in Holyoke, after which she worked as an apprentice at Amherst Barbers. She said Maxon approached her about buying the shop when she was ready to retire.

“Her and I had a handshake deal,” she said. “I bought the goodwill of the business.”

The pandemic has had a major impact on The Barber Shop’s business.

“My business is down two-thirds,” said Isabelle.

Like all barbershops, the pandemic initially forced The Barber Shop to close. When that happened, however, customers sent money to Isabelle to pay for haircuts in advance.

“That sustained me,” she said.

After the shop opened, Isabelle chose not to take new customers out of concern for the safety of herself and her clients.

“I have an older clientele that keeps me going year-round,” she said. “I just didn’t feel like putting them at risk.”

Instead, she would work for three days, take a week off, and if she or the people she worked on didn’t report having COVID-19, she would work again.

“It’s just easier to keep everybody in a small group,” she said.

With the closing of Amherst Barbers, however, Isabelle is taking former clients from that shop. In December she resumed operating on a weekly basis and she said she would return to a five-day schedule in January.

“I can’t survive without my walk-in clientele,” she said.

She did say, however, that she will try to have her older clients either earlier in the morning or earlier in the week.

Isabelle said that as a self-employed person with no employees she hasn’t found any programs to aid her business during the pandemic. She also said that she’s facing the choice of whether or not to renew her lease or not, and that the GoFundMe will help her to keep it open. She also noted that The Barber Shop is one of North Amherst’s last businesses.

Isabelle described The Barber Shop’s clients as a “very special group of people.” And she also said that the shop’s community has helped her to pull through during the pandemic.

“It’s a place they rely on as well,” she said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@ gazettenet.com.