UPTOWN — A new barber shop with a familiar Americana, modern aesthetic opened in Uptown Monday thanks to financial support from real estate group FLATS Chicago.
"It felt serendipitous how it all unfolded," said owner Michael Stejskal while sitting in a mid-century modern chair in his brick and mortar shop The Public Barber, 1319 W. Wilson Ave.
The 34-year-old former furniture designer won a year of free rent, $20,000 to build the shop and design and marketing help through #FLATSproject — an initiative designed by the city and real estate group FLATS Chicago and its parent company, Cedar Street, to bring local small businesses to vacant storefronts in the neighborhood. He's the first of what an eventual four winners, according to a FLATS spokesman.
Though Stejskal intended to open a barber shop in Uptown regardless of the contest's outcome, he said winning financial support from FLATS Chicago allowed him to open much more quickly than he ever imagined.
"I knew I wanted to be a business owner, but it was thrilling how quickly it all came together," he said. "I didn't have a chance to second guess myself and tip toe around it. Sometimes you have to just jump right into the deep end."
Stejskal learned he'd won the popular vote, decided by residents, in September, which he said was both "overwhelming and terrifying." With design help from FLATS, Stejskal was able to transform the space over the course of four months into a "clean, airy, modern" barber shop with white walls, trendy globe lighting and a giant American flag—a similar aesthetic as Heritage Coffee Shop, which is located a few doors down.
All of the decorations save for a couple pieces of furniture came from Stejskal's house. In the waiting area sit a few mid-century modern chairs and a vintage book shelf stocked with hair products and books. He encourages clients to take a book and then swap in one of their own, which he dubbed "take a book, leave a book."
Stejskal favors a simplistic, clean design as to not distract from the craftsmanship of the haircut, he said.
"What we do is a craft," he said. "I want people to take notice of that as opposed to a thousand pictures up on the wall."
At The Public Barber, men's haircuts cost $25, while a shave, scalp treatment and facial package will set you back $35. Right now, the small shop has four chairs, where he hopes clients will strike up conversation with each other.
"That's an important part of barber shops," he said. "You have to look at someone across from you and hopefully you'll talk to them."
But Stejskal hasn't always wanted to open his own barber shop. In fact, the longtime North Side resident studied acting at Columbia College Chicago and then went on to work as a furniture designer for River North-based company Maxine Snider Inc.
He realized he needed a change when he experienced a personal tragedy roughly two and a half years ago.
"I wanted to do something where I was interacting with people more, and I realized none of my friends and family could appreciate or take advantage of what I was doing for work," he said.
Along the way he had developed a deep appreciation for the "architectural" haircuts he says only a barber shop could provide. So he decided to make a bold career move: he enrolled in barber school and planned to open his own shop in the neighborhood where he lives.
For months, he cut hair seven days a week. He'd return home from Success Schools in the evening only to cut clients' hair in his Uptown apartment. And he worked at a men's salon in Lakeview on the weekends. His goal was to open his own "thoughtfully designed" shop, he said.
"l like the masculine vibe of a barber shop but, to me, I didn't think it needs to be so overtly masculine," he said referring to a "dingy" barber shop he used to frequent that always had a football game on TV and pornographic magazines lying around.
"There's a man out there who [needs a hair cut] and appreciates a clean space and doesn't like sports."
Uptown resident Ryan Weaver came in for a haircut on Tuesday afternoon.
"I haven't found any other places in this area," said Weaver, who added that he has been traveling to either The Loop or Lakeview for a haircut until now. "This is great."
Stejskal believes Public Barber's "thoughtful" aesthetic and simplistic approach to haircuttery will not only lure in customers like Weaver, but it'll also inspire other small business owners to open up shop nearby.
"Seeing windows open, lights on and music on is going to draw more businesses to come and join the fun," he said.
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