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Barbershop embraces neighborhood around BU

Posted by Laura Gomez  April 4, 2013 10:18 AM

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(Photos by Alex H. Wagner)

A photo slideshow of Louie's Barbershop on Commonwealth Avenue.

By Alex H. Wagner, Globe Correspondent

Louie’s Haircuts is less than a block away from its chief competitor, University Barbershop. But with a clientele of 30,000 to split between them, owner and barber Louis Fenerlis, 52, tends not to worry.

“When I came here 20 years ago, there was one barbershop [University Barbershop] on the campus, and one barber,” said Fenerlis. “And the gentleman that owned it at the time was quite upset that I was coming in, and I told him, ‘Hey, listen, we need more barbers on this campus. You can’t do them all.’”

For Fenerlis, though, it’s more about the friendships with clients than the competition, especially so close to a major university. Although he is one of the few independently owned businesses on campus, Fenerlis considers himself as much a part of the BU community as anyone else. In the shop, he sits on a bench detailed with the BU Terriers logo as he describes his eagerness to help students with school projects.

“In the 20 years that I’ve been here, you’re probably the 100th person that I’ve done this [interviewing] with, so it’s fun,” said Fenerlis. “I enjoy that, I feel like I’m part of the community.”

Other barbers working in the shop agreed, acknowledging the diversity of the BU student body and what it brings to the barbershop.

“It makes it interesting,” said Melissa Ortiz, 24. “You can definitely meet a lot of people from different backgrounds from all over the world.”

Good company and a relaxing atmosphere are not the only things Louie’s offers, said fellow barber Chris Lawson, 35. In his view, their barbershop is a place where customers can come back and continually get the same haircut, even if it is by a different person every time.

“I think at the core of the haircut is, you’re going to get a consistent haircut day in and day out,” said Lawson. “Honestly, when the doors are open and the people come in, that’s a testament to what we’re doing right.”

Yet even he admits that it is the customers who bring the character to the barbershop.
“They come see you, and you see what they’re up to, and you kind of get this peek into their lives,” said Lawson.

This is not just limited to the BU student body—faculty and staff are known to visit the barbershop as well. Fenerlis said this reveals a lot about the administration.

“I know some of the top guys at the school and the university come here, and you can just tell by those people that they’re hiring the right people,” he said.

Growing up in Cambridge, Fenerlis decided to become a barber after realizing that college wasn’t for him. “My father wasn’t willing to invest in the college thing, unless I could prove otherwise, and I didn’t want to prove otherwise, so I decided to pick up a trade,” he said.

From there, he worked in a barbershop in Harvard Square for 11 years, managing it for seven of those years. Eventually, the previous owner of the building on Commonwealth Avenue notified him that the basement portion was coming up for rent, and soon Louie’s Haircuts came into existence.

Presently, there are five other barbers working for Fenerlis, including Ortiz and Lawson.

Although Fenerlis said they are a traditional barbershop, they are open to working with the trends of the day, using American Crew styling products and an online booking service.

As for the future, Fenerlis tries to keep his predictions to a minimum. But he does see himself working in the same place in 20 years.

“It’s not the kind of business where you can say, ‘I’m going to retire tomorrow,’” said Fenerlis. “It’s long term, because you work in this business and, after a while, you’re working 60-65 hours a week. After a while, your friends are your customers.”

This story was produced under a partnership between the Globe and Boston University.

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