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Keeping it real – Barber Blues moves into bigger space, keeps cool vibe

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Jason Iverson’s story is somewhat of a working man’s dream realized. The Sacramento native found himself in the middle of a career crisis four years ago, doing sales for a health insurance company in what he described as a "little gray box you could say I outgrew."

During a vacation in Fort Bragg, Iverson, who was in his early 30s, walked into a barbershop that immediately felt authentic, like the place to be. When his barber dropped a four-letter word, Iverson looked around to see if anyone was insulted. Turns out, no one was fazed by the foul language. After all, he was at a barber’s shop.

"There’s a freedom of speech and openness," said Iverson on a recent morning at his shop on 14th and E streets. "I was really attracted to that freedom."

As it turns out, Iverson had experience cutting hair – while in high school – before his career change. So while working his day job selling health insurance, he went to barber college at night and on weekends, eventually gaining enough experience to open his own shop in downtown Sacramento.

Jason Iverson of Barber Blues whips up some shaving lather by hand.

In 2010, Iverson opened Barber Blues at 14th and G streets, in what he describes as a "dungeon." While it served his purposes in building a strong customer base, he eventually outgrew the space. When the lease expired and the landlord raised the rent, he moved two blocks over into a building about twice the size.

And it’s swanky. Even hip. On the far side of the shop sit several barber chairs, while the remaining open space is filled with a pool table and vintage, refurbished theater seats. Half of the shop is for work, while the other half is for play.

The space is open, with plenty of natural light coming through the large windows along E Street, which look out to the neighbors – Shine Cafe, the Yoga Seed, and a thrift store.

Barber Blues on E and 14th streets is an old-school barber shop with a hip, urban feel.

It exudes a sense of pride, as does Iverson, who keeps a competitive edge by offering a blend of new and old services. For example the shop offers online appointment setting, and does old-school straight razor shaves with every cut. These traditional, close and personal shaves aren’t done everywhere – a barber license is needed due to the risk of cuts – and stretches out the longevity of the hair cut.

"That’s the competitive edge of going to a barber shop, at least for men," he said. "We have a few women customers too. The only thing I do is spare them the aftershave."

His barbers even make the shave oils and soaps and hand mix shaving lathers. "We feel it gives a better shave and the ingredients are more wholesome," he said.

Cody Burnett of Barber Blues gives a straight razor shave to a customer.

The business challenge is balancing the variety of customers coming through the door. There are the "fly by the seat of your pants" type, who walk in for a haircut. Then there are those more strategic with their time, and want to book an appointment, he says.

And being downtown means Barber Blues gets a lot of customer turnover, as people move in and out of the area. "Every time we lose a guy, we gotta get another guy in," Iverson said.

But it’s more than just a place to get your hair cut and a close shave, he says. It’s a place where men can be open with one another, share stories, and "pow wow together."

"Where else can you go and not be criticized for how you speak?"  

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