Some businesses are just anchored in downtown American culture. Old fashioned diners, mom and pop drug stores and barber shops come to mind when reminiscing about old times on Main Street USA.
And while not located on Main Street, Western Way Barber Shop is, without question, one of those cherished landmarks in Hernando County, still thriving in a shopping plaza that was, at one time, bursting with traffic.
The staple of the barber shop concept centered on walk-in traffic. But Western Way Barber Shop managed to build enough trust in its customer base to keep a constant flow through its doors, even when the business climate tightened.
And for 29 years, many still travel to sit in the classic chairs that originate from 1946, for a quick 15 minute cut or a detailed style. Customers always get a comforting dose of friendly conversation.
Eileen Kaufmann, owner of Western Way Barber Shop, has run the staple business from the same location since it opened in 1984. She has made minor interior upgrades through the years. But the foundation was always grounded in comfort and friendly atmosphere.
Kaufmann has more than 35 years in the hair industry. “I started right after high school,” she said. “I thought it was a good field to raise my two children in.”
She worked in a few salons but had difficulty adjusting to the chemicals. “They bothered my skin,” she said. And because hair styling was her passion, she took the most logical next step and opened a barber shop.
But Western Way Barber Shop isn’t just where men hang out for a custom trim. Kaufmann added perms and style cuts to her menu of services. As a result, she has a healthy combination of men, women and children clients, many who have remained loyal for years. And the waiting room is wheelchair accessible.
Kaufmann was born in New Jersey and moved to Hernando County when her two children, girl and boy, were just 18 months and 4 years old. They two grew up in the business. “They used to come in and help, sweeping the floor,” she remembered.
Her son, James, owns a karate school in Spring Hill, Kaufmann’s Karate Academy, and is the Activity Coordinator for Gulf Coast Academy. Her daughter now lives in Tallahassee and works in a hair salon.
“I’m very proud of them,” Kaufmann said. And she attributes their strong work ethic to growing up in a family business. “It’s done me well,” she added.
Doing hair is similar to creating art, Kaufmann said. Each client is a new canvas and each finished cut or style or perm is another unique representation of her team’s creative talent. “No two heads of hair are the same,” Kaufman said.
Kaufmann’s sidekick, Frank Felice, has been with her for more than 16 years. The two are an entertaining pair on the floor as they interact with each client while working their magic with clippers and trimming shears.
The two complement each other as their clients relax in one of two classic barber shop chairs that are as comfortable as they are eye pleasing. Customers walk in regularly and wait no more than a few minutes for their turn. The whole time, conversation is cheerful and steady.
And Kaufmann knows her regular customers by name. That may be at least important reason her business has stayed viable even when others were forced to fold under the weight of a sluggish economy.
She remained steady, holding her prices at a reasonable rate. And she offered other services not typical in a barbershop setting, like perms and designer style cuts to appeal to women and children. “I have quite a few women clients,” she said. “Families feel very comfortable here.”
She is a survivor. “You have to hang in there through the bad times and wait for the good times,” she said.
Seasonal resident, Ron Steffey, from Michigan, has been getting his hair cut with Eileen Kaufmann for three years. "It’s the first one I saw,” he said, “so I came in.” His loyalty was grounded on that first visit and he returns whenever he and his wife return for the winter months. “She does a good job,” he said.
Western Way Barber Shop is open Tuesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Kaufmann is, by nature, a people person. Her engagement is genuine and her passion for people impossible to miss. “I like meeting different people and getting to know them,” Kaufmann said. “I like the personal relationship we have with them.”