Local businessman seeks to revive lost tradition
July 17-23, 2017
By Nick Popowitch
Jeff McKay wants to bring back a community tradition he remembers from his childhood: the barbershop.
“My grandfather lived in Clarendon, AR, a small town in Monroe County, a classic eastern Arkansas town,” McKay, one of the owners of Pulaski County Title, reminisced. “It had a town square, and it had Marlar Barbershop right on the edge of the square. He used to take me there on Saturdays, and I could remember the smells and the sounds, and the undertone of the conversation. It was your classic barbershop.”
On April 21, McKay opened V’s Barbershop in Midtown Little Rock; the culmination of years of research to bring back the classic barbershop with a touch of modernity. He hopes to bring this tradition back for newer generations to experience.
“I wanted a business that took people back to a simpler time, because I think we’ve lost that in the digital age,” McKay said, “there’s a whole generation of kids who are growing up with nothing but electronic stimulation, and we’ve gotten away from that nostalgic Americana.”
While researching barbershops, McKay came across Jim Valenzuela, owner of V’s Barbershop, who has built his Arizona-based business around the same principles McKay sought to bring to his community. Over the next year, he worked hand-in-hand with V’s to bring the franchise to Arkansas.
The barbershop brings the established style of V’s with the hometown feel contributed by McKay. Walking through the door, a shoeshine booth sits by the window, with a row of freshly shined shoes dropped off by busy patrons. Customers are also offered a shine as part of their haircut.
The walls of the shop display photographs of sports figures, from a grinning portrait of Babe Ruth, to the iconic 1965 photo of Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston. McKay has also added Some local flavor to the walls.
Captured moments in Razorback history are included among the sports icons, as well as photos and artwork of the Natural State’s outdoor pastimes of hunting and fishing. McKay has contributed his personal artwork and photos to the collection, including an elk mounted above the check-in counter, making the shop’s Arkansas patrons feel more at home.
The shop is long and narrow, with waiting patrons sitting along the wall across from the barber’s stations, letting everyone take part in any conversation.
“A lot of guys leave their profession and their ego at the front door, and they come in here, and they’re just a normal guy, and they can talk sports, or anything else that interests them,” McKay said. “That’s what’s cool, you’ll see a good mix of people. We want this place to be, not just a barber shop, but a place where you can come out for an hour on Saturday morning, have a cup of coffee and have a good conversation.”
McKay also understands that not everybody comes into the barbershop to talk, but instead unwind. For those patrons, V’s includes the modern touch of a TV at every station, controlled by the customer.
“We want that old fashioned barbershop feel,” McKay explained. “But we know that sometimes people want more than that, and the television is a way to put them in control. Some guys love to sit down and talk to their barbers, but some guys are having a bad day and they don’t want to talk, they just want to veg-out in front of a TV.”
V’s has also adopted online reservations, making appointment scheduling more convenient for people on a tight schedule. Patrons can schedule their next appointment online, over the phone, or in person, and walk-ins are always welcome.
Aesthetics aside, the success of any barbershop rests on the quality of its barbers, and according to McKay, V’s has the three best in Little Rock. Licensed barbers Mohammad Ali, Jeremiah Mathews, and Tyree Payne offer a full range of services. From haircuts, massages, facials, beard trimming, and straight-razor shaves, these professionals take pride in every aspect of their trade.
“We set the stage,” McKay said, referring to the look, feel, and smell of the shop, “and then we finish with an authentic barber. We don’t hire cosmetologists. Cosmetologists cannot pick up a razor blade and shave. We look for qualified barbers.”
Right now, McKay is enjoying a successful start to his Midtown Little Rock location, but he looks forward to opening more barbershops, bringing this classic experience to other communities in Arkansas.
If you’d like to experience McKay’s vision of the classic barbershop and are looking for a quality haircut, visit V’s at 8204 Cantrell Road. They are open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and until 5 p.m. Saturdays.
Jeff McKay, owner of V’s Barbershop - Midtown Little Rock, talks with customers as they wait for the next chair to open. (Photo by Nick Popowitch)