By James Maher
Name: Alex Shamuelov
Occupation: Barber and student
Location: Ace of Cuts, 518 E. 6th St. between Avenue A and Avenue B
Date: 9 a.m., July 9
I’m from Uzbekistan, but my background goes back to Moscow and St. Petersburg. Because of the Soviet Union, it was really tough there but it was a little bit easier in the southern part, so that’s why my ancestors moved down there. So I was born in Uzbekistan and I came to New York when I was 3 years old.
I never thought I’d be a hairdresser. My dad has been a hairdresser for a long time, but when he was young he was a mechanic. His father’s a hairdresser, his brother’s a hairdresser, his mom used to be a hairdresser, and his sister’s a hairdresser. Everybody in my family from both sides — everybody’s a hairdresser. That’s how it was from the old country. Everybody was a hairdresser.
My father always said, ‘You know, listen — it’s better for you to learn a talent than it is for you to hop from one job to another.’ He said, ‘This is something that you’re going to have and something that you’re never going to lose. You never know what could happen in life. Let’s say one day, God forbid, you lose your job, then you have something to turn to. Hair always grows. Everybody always needs haircuts.’
So I took those words into consideration. I was only 15 years old. Imagine when you’re 15 years old, for six months for almost two summers after school, standing next to a barber and not making anything, whereas I wanted to go become a counselor or something, you know. I wanted to make some money. No, my father kept pushing me toward it and I’m happy for that. This is something that I like to do, and not to brag, but I’m good at it. I’ve won competitions and stuff like that. I like to draw and I’m artistic, so this helps me sculpt a person, sculpt a head. So everything worked out well.
I’m 20 years old now and I just opened my own barber shop with my father. [July 9] is actually a month since we opened. Everybody is shocked about that. It’s not easy trying to succeed in this life right now. I have the support of my family. We’re all together. We live next to each other, in a two-block radius in Queens.
The landlord of this building is my previous customer from Long Island. He currently goes to my uncle, because that was my uncle’s barbershop, so he told my uncle about it. So I came one day with my parents and uncle and I loved the place, and now we’re here. I love the East Village. Everybody’s very neighborhoody; everybody’s very friendly. Say if you go to Midtown, neighbors don’t know each other. Here everybody knows each other and they say hi to each other. It’s the same thing where I live Queens — in Rego Park.
You know how landlords are — they want their rent on the spot, so we had to do it quick. I renovated this whole place in about three weeks. I did it for my father mostly. I don’t want him to work for somebody all his life. I wanted him to become his own boss, so that’s why I’m here now. I’m on break from school. I’m helping him out. I’m in the middle of the street so it’s really hard to advertise. You have to be patient. I went from cutting 35 to 40 people a day to cutting five people a day. Psychologically that hurts you.
In Park Slope I used to cut 40 people a day. We were right next to Mayor de Blasio’s house. I’ve cut his hair. I used to see him every day; every day he walked by. It was shocking because you see somebody, you take care of somebody, and then all of a sudden, boom — he’s an icon of New York. Over there you need speed and you need technique, and you need a sense of style. Imagine in 12 hours cutting 40 people. That means about 100 to 150 people come in every day. They used to call me Ferrari because I used to be very quick.
Obviously I’m not going to be the same here because I don’t have that competition going on. That’s why I made this barbershop like this, you know. I have Jameson. I have vodka. I have beer. I have everything for someone to come in and relax. I have a 65-inch TV. People come in, they watch TV. I charge $15. So yeah, hopefully I’ll make it. I was trying to go for a different image for someone to come and relax.
I am also currently in school at LIU, Long Island University, in downtown Brooklyn. I’m trying to get into the pharmacy program out there. It was a challenge for me to pick my profession that I wanted to go for, that I wanted to succeed in. My dream is now opening a pharmacy and having a barber chair, to build a barber shop in the pharmacy, so while you wait for your medicine you get your hair cut real quick. Cause you know how everybody in New York is trying to get things done quick.
James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.