LINCOLN SQUARE — With its independent movie theater, hardware store and apothecary, Lincoln Square could easily be mistaken for a small town.
There's just one thing missing — a barbershop. You know, the kind of place with a swirly red-white-and-blue pole where a guy can get a shave and a haircut and be on his way in less than half an hour, his wallet scarcely lighter than when he entered?
"There's a place on Lawrence by my house where I can get my hair cut for five bucks, or I can spend $35 at a salon. What we don't have is a barbershop — a good barbershop," said Nate Hutcheson, who's lived in Lincoln Square for eight years.
"Not having one is a kind of a loss," he said, while admitting, "this is a fancy problem to have."
Patty Wetli discusses how a Chicago crowd-sourcing company is helping launch the barbershop:
Hutcheson found exactly what he was looking for in Aaron Williams' no muss, no fuss Esquire Barbershop, perfect in every way except for its Andersonville location.
"The barbers know you, they remember how to cut your hair," said Hutcheson. "You don't have to talk about your hair or spend a lot of money on your hair. I think that's what most men want."
After a just a handful of visits to Esquire, Hutcheson began lobbying Williams, 39, to expand his operation to a second location in Lincoln Square.
Williams took the bait.
Look for the Lincoln Square Barbershop to open at 2415 W. Lawrence Ave. sometime around the Fourth of July if all goes as planned.
Hutcheson is now on the hook to help Williams succeed — not just as a customer but as an investor.
It was his suggestion that the barber raise the seed money for his newest venture through LendSquare, a form of crowd-sourced funding that solicits loans for small businesses from members of the community. It's like KickStarter, only supporters are rewarded with a return on their investment in the form of dollars instead of Facebook shoutouts.
"I don't like having things given to me," Williams said of opting to sign up with LendSquare for a two-year repayment plan. "I guess I'm old-fashioned."
He sought an $8,000 loan, though he said he was prepared to make the move without the added cash infusion.
"The money just helps get things done a little faster," he said. "And I'll probably sleep easier."
He intends to use the funds to pay for electrical work and new flooring at the Lawrence Avenue building.
"It's pretty bare bones right now," Williams said of the storefront. "And I haven't even touched the plumbing."
Fourteen investors came through for him, getting Williams to his goal with days to spare before the lending deadline.
Some, like Hutcheson, he knew.
"It's not a donation, I expect I'll get it back," Hutcheson said. "You're not going to make a killing, but it will be nice to have a barbershop."
Others investors were completely unknown to Williams.
With LendSquare loans averaging 9 percent interest — the rate for each is determined via auction — "We now have some repeat lenders that like to back small businesses in Chicago," said Bryce Huguenin, director of marketing and communications for LendSquare.
Aksh Gupta is one of them.
"First of all, I'm not a customer of many businesses, but I like them," he said. "Also, selfishly, it's a great return."
With large banks reluctant to take a fly on small businesses post-recession, Gupta said he sees an opportunity for individual investors like himself to fill that gap and support local communities.
"I'm an entrepreneur myself," said Gupta, who lives in the South Loop. "I know access to capital is critical."
Lincoln Square Barbershop is the third business Gupta has invested in through LendSquare, the common denominator being that all three are relationship-based versus transaction-based, he said.
"The people who go to a barbershop go to the same barber over and over," Gupta said, which translates into the kind of steady customer base that will keep a business afloat.
Williams is a relatively safe bet, having already grown his Andersonville location from a one-man shop to a business that employs four additional barbers — who will remain at Esquire — including his wife, Tara Williams.
"She cuts my hair, I don't cut hers," he said.
The couple is moving to Bowmanville to minimize Williams' commute to the new shop. He'll start out in Lincoln Square the same way he did at Esquire — just Williams and a single chair, offering a limited "menu" of haircut, beard trim and shave.
"It's not very glamorous," Williams said of barbering, despite its current retro appeal.
"When I was going to barber school, there were probably double-digit schools in the state. Now there's only a handful left," he said. "It's not a very popular profession. You're on your feet all day."
He said he receives near weekly calls from barbers closing up shop in small towns, asking him to take over their business. But Williams, who originally hails from Dixon, Ill., would rather recreate that same sense of tight-knit neighborliness in the city.
"I always thought Chicago was too big and now I can't imagine leaving," he said.
Being a barber puts him at the center of the community.
"It keeps me in contact with everybody," Williams said. "A new story walks in every 15 minutes."
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