A flash of light gleams off the silver blade.
Surgeon-steady hands draw the straight razor slowly and carefully over sprouting stubble. Steam still rises from a soft damp towel just removed from the customer’s face. The blue and red ribbon of the barber poll revolves in the background. Rich stained wood and black-and-white photography line the walls. Scents of musky oils, like manly incense, waft from a collection of clear glass bottles lined neatly beneath crystal clean mirrors. And the hand remains steady, guiding the razor’s edge like a laser. All amid the scissors snipping, a broom brushing the floor and the constant din of friendly chatter.
Tucked inside a small indoor mall on Dillon’s Main Street, the Gentlemen’s Barbershop provides a portal to the past. It harkens to a time when debates were waged around a barber’s chair. Men discussed serious issues like politics and sports and sometimes gossiped like schoolgirls as tufts of hair fell on the checkered floor.
In the past, the local barbershop was a cornerstone of the community — a gathering place for men and ideas. And although the advent of the disposable razor had a dramatic effect on barbershops in America, it’s still the only place you can go outside your home to get an old-fashioned straight-razor shave.
“Barbers are the only ones allowed to run the straight razor shave on the face and neck,” said Steve Martin, one of three barbers at Gentlemen’s.
Scott Lemme, one of the owners, describes in detail what goes into a proper straight-razor shave. It’s a complex process using oils, steam towels, shaving cream and a perfect razor always going with the grain. His knowledge of skin is akin to a dermatologist’s.
His descriptions remind one of a medical procedure. And considering the history of barbers, the comparison is certainly apt.
The first barbers originated in ancient Egypt about 5,500 years ago. They also served as surgeon and dentist. In early American history, the barber was where you had to go if you wanted a shave. It was an almost daily ritual for some.
Gentleman’s has turned its shop into a time machine for many locals and visitors to the High Rockies. That’s because the barbers’ expertise in strictly men’s haircuts and facial hair styles is lost in a world of hairdressers who cater to both men and women.
“Men’s haircuts are more angular and more precise,” said Joe Damonte, the third chair at Gentlemen’s.
All three men attended barber school in Denver. They all come from diverse backgrounds.
Lemme has cut hair at the shop for seven years. Recently he and Martin bought the location, which they expanded, creating more space and adding room for a third chair.
Their model has been so successful that before the addition of the third chair, you could get a cut and shave by appointment only.
“For years all we took were appointments because we couldn’t fit in any more, but now with the third chair we have walk-ins and appointments,” Lemme said. “We have such a strong client base we had to open a third chair to handle walk-ins at all.”
Lemme’s attention to detail stems from his art background. He went to college at one point to be an animator, but he found his career behind the spinning barber chair.
“I got into this by chance,” Lemme said. “Now I’m part of the best trade I’ve ever been involved in. I just love the attention to details and getting to use my hands.”
“We all have different backgrounds, and we all have a little different eye,” Martin said. “We all bring something different to the table.”
Damonte also looks at barbering as an art form.
“A lot of people see it as sculpting,” Damonte said. “I was a chef for 30 years. I carved food and ice. Now I get to sculpt hair for a living … My dad was a barber. He said it was in my blood.”
Their business model is a template for how to build a dedicated client base.
One client last week was preparing to propose to his girlfriend. But he couldn’t do it until he stopped by his local barber in Dillon.
“We’ll regularly have groomsmen and grooms come by right before their wedding day,” Lemme said. “We have others who come by to strike getting a straight-razor shave off their bucket lists.”
Genbook, a company used to make online appointments and reviews, has logged more than 650 verified customer reviews for Gentlemen’s over the past few years.
Remarkably, the shop retains a perfect five-star rating despite the horde of reviews.
But the barbershop hasn’t become a smashing success simply by clinging to the past. Lemme said they incorporate the latest in men’s hairstyles and haircuts into their portfolio. They’ve found success in blending the new with the old.
“We keep all the traditions alive,” Lemme said. “We also continue our education to keep up with modern trends, and offer a high quality of service. We don’t just cut hair here, but we take care of everything on a man that makes him look good.”
“It’s the men’s version of the spa treatment,” Damonte said.
“We keep all the traditions alive.”