The summer of 1961 ushered in a new era of shopping when ground was broken for Mall St. Matthews on what had been a 67-acre potato farm.
Built for a mere $10 million, Kentucky’s first enclosed shopping center opened the following March, beckoning consumers to 36 businesses that included an A&P Supermarket, Kaufman’s of Kentucky, Blue Boar Cafeteria, Variety Records and Sutcliffe’s Sporting Goods.
A half-century later, only one of the original businesses remains — the Mall Barber Shop.
Its ownership has changed several times, and it has moved from the food court to the wing between JC Penny and the Dillards women’s store, but it’s still helping customers look their best.
“My partner, Geoffrey Brooks, and I have owned the shop since December 2005,” said co-owner Sylvia Grace. “Both of us have backgrounds in the arts, but when we relocated here from California, we couldn’t find jobs. We bought this barber shop and the Tranquility Salon and Spa in Dorsey Plaza.”
Right away, they understood that the barber shop faced a special challenge.
At first, the mall was home to many community-based, locally owned businesses; but as the decades rolled by, it attracted companies whose headquarters were far away. Could the homegrown barber shop continue to fit in?
There were also other factors to consider.
When it was in the food court, the Mall Barber Shop was small, narrow and needed updating. The mall’s owners wanted businesses near the food court, which was expanding, to be eating-oriented, so the little shop had to relocate—and get a makeover.
“It had to fit the mall’s guidelines about color scheme, awnings and everything else,” Geoff said. “As it turned out, this ‘neighborhood’ is great.
There are several other beauty care stores nearby, and we’re on the outside. Customers appreciate the fact that they can park right in front. With the changes we’ve made, this looks more like a salon than a barber shop, but it’s still a place where people can relax, get a good haircut and swap a few stories.”
Stylist Sheila Shain, whose seven years in the shop include one in the previous location, estimates that about half of her customers are regulars, and half are people who stop by while shopping in the mall.
The busiest days are Friday and Saturday, but Sunday morning is popular among mothers with young children; coloring books, crayons and televised cartoons are always standing by to entertain them.
“When they open the movie theaters over here, that will be even better for us,” Geoff said. “With six barbers, we can offer a wide assortment of styles and cuts, and for all ethnicities and age groups. That’s unlike most barber shops. And we are able to guarantee that the quality will always be the highest possible. That’s what men in particular appreciate: continuity and consistency.”
Their backgrounds in the arts have inspired Sylvia and Geoff to seek ways to add more personality to their shop.
One avenue for creativity might be encouraging artists to display their works on the walls.
“We want to make it as friendly and inviting a space as possible,” Geoff said. “We have several musicians who work for us, one of whom brings in his guitar to play. As a result, we’ve gained clients who are musicians.”
It isn’t just the comfortable ambiance that attracts customers—it’s the prices, such as the $14 haircut, $7 trim, and $20 hair coloring; on Tuesdays, military personnel and seniors (60 and over) get a $2 discount.
“Some of our customers go back three generations,” Sheila said. “They’ve been coming here since they were kids. You’d be amazed how many people come in here and start telling us stories.”
The Mall Barber Shop, Mall St. Matthews, opens at 10 a.m. and closes at 8:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and opens at noon and closes at 5:30 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit www.mallbarbershop.com or phone 502.893.2025.