BATAVIA — Natalie Anderson lights up as two former neighbors, Paul and Kristoffer Neumann, step into her newly opened barbershop for the first time. She runs to greet the men, who drove an hour to Beardsgaard Barbers, a three-month-old shop in the Chicago suburb of Batavia that specializes in styling and maintenance of beards. Barber beard styles.
"I've had a beard most of my adult life, I've been growing this one for three years," said Paul Neumann, eager to get his feathery 8-inch beard trimmed. "Natalie's admired my beard since way back when."
Once known as the beard specialist at a barbershop where she previously worked, Anderson massages some Santa Claus-inspired beard oil — with strong notes of balsam fir, peppermint and pipe tobacco — into Kristoffer Neumann's beard, molding his wiry hairs in place. She then takes a fine-tooth comb and glides it along his jaw line, defining the beard's angles.
It's a craft that is increasingly in demand as facial hair and longer beards grow in popularity, industry experts say.
Providing an additional service for beard-styling makes sense, since beards can be "as big as a head of hair," said Charles Kirkpatrick, executive director of the National Association of Barber Boards of America.
While large beards have grown in and out of fashion for centuries, he said the beard-care industry has boomed in the last few years as they have become trendy. Barbers have learned to style and shape them while more beard products are coming on the market, he said.
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R.J. Jackson, owner of Gabby's Barber Shop in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood, said his barbers have honed their beard-trimming skills over the years as more bearded-customers came into the shop. Beard trims at the shop cost $7.
"There's a community up here that wears beards, and they tell their friends to come back to us, so we've always been trimming beards," he said. "But the trend has certainly gained popularity in the city in the last year or two," Jackson said.
Beardsgaard embodies the old-fashioned style of a 1900s barbershop, but adds a dash of what the owners call their own "nordic and nerdy" fandom. A message inscribed over the shop's door is in Elvish, a language of the Lord of the Rings' Middle Earth. The name "Beardsgaard" itself stems from what sounded like the place Vikings would go to get their beards trimmed, said co-owner Tyler Anderson, Natalie's husband.
The shop specializes in beard trimming and maintenance, with services like quick beard trims, beard clean-ups and "beard overhauls," which include deep conditioning, facial hair design, dramatic reshaping and beard blowouts. Owners say they serve about 25 customers each day, and more than half are bearded.
Owners of Beardsgaard also are trying to set apart their shop as something that can appeal to a broad base with vintage items that create an old-fashioned feel and even a play area for kids.
Beardsgaard's vast shop houses a display case of vintage grooming brushes, various beard waxes and oils for sale and posters of classic 1960s hair cuts — the "Slickback, the "High n' Tight," the "Scumbag" and the "Boogie."
The shop also features something not-so-traditional of a barbershop: an entire children's play area, run and maintained by Tyler's 6-year-old daughter, Morgan. The shop tries to cater to children too, and on Tuesday, Tyler had Bill Devine's 7-year-old son, Chase, sit in a 1900s barber chair and get a side-swept bangs cut.
"We know how hard it is to get kids to cut their hair, make them feel comfortable," Tyler said. "So we're starting them young, letting them know barbershops are good."
Ellen Zitkus has brought her 9-year-old son Jimmy — who previously hated haircuts — to the shop a couple of times since it opened. While Jimmy got his hair cut, Zitkus' daughters entertained themselves in the shop's play area.
"He thinks it's boyish, not like a salon," she said. "They're guy barbers, who look manly, which he likes since he's becoming more aware of his looks. We found our niche."
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