Nestled into a small storefront on a Brooklyn block that holds a butcher shop, a synagogue, a kosher ramen restaurant, and a laundromat sits The Railroad Barber. A reclaimed vintage door opens up into an old-time style barbershop complete with hair cutting stations, a mini-fridge full of drinks, and a living room-like waiting area that holds inviting velvet furniture. Levi Aronow has finally settled his portable barber business into a more permanent location and in the few weeks it’s been open, the shop has already generated a buzz.
The Railroad Barber
In the Jewish community, the seven weeks after Passover are considered a mourning period. This means no listening to live music, holding off on wedding celebrations, and barring extenuating circumstances, no haircuts. Therefore, the week before Passover is one of the busiest time of year for barbers.
As a teen, Aronow started cutting his friends’ hair as a way to make some cash. After leaving school, he spent some time in a few different industries. Not feeling accomplished, he applied for a position at a local barbershop, where the owner turned him down as he didn’t have a barber’s license, but promised him a chair after some proper training. Aronow went to school and returned for the offer and that’s when he began cutting hair professionally. Soon after that, he created his house call business, traveling to clients’ homes to cut their hair. This year, after months on the road, he finally took the leap and opened a brick and mortar shop.
“I took out a loan for this…and requested a certain amount to cover the entire project. I was approved for the loan but when I received the check, almost 40% of the amount I asked for was missing. Holding the check I told myself, “It’s not about if I will make this work but how will I make this work. I was opening my shop no matter what.”
Aronow already has his sights set on the bigger picture. With plans to begin a podcast titled Conversations in the Barber Chair featuring advice from a range of professionals in different industries, Aronow is confident he will reach a wider audience. He notes that the conversations between a barber and his clients are often very intimate.
The Challenges of Starting a Small Business
Aronow has no desire to pigeon-hole his brand and understood from the beginning the challenges that come with starting a business. “Starting this shop, I could have said I’m a barber and I only cut hair,” he says. “But I had to take on so many other roles. Now I know a little bit about contracting, a little bit about lighting, design and stuff like that.
“I was able to take whatever money I was given, and I did a lot of the work myself with tremendous help from my mother because I had more time than I did money. I knew going into this that it’s going to be tight…whenever something doesn’t go right or something’s taking longer… I actively focus on not getting frustrated because I understand it’s all part of the process.
“There’s one thing that’s been driving me this whole time,” Aronow confides. “It’s something that I tell my friends, family, and something I’m going to instill in my kids. You can do anything you want—if you want to start a garbage-collection company or a diamond business I will support your decision as long as it’s an honest living. The question that you have to ask yourself is how badly do you want this?”