Four years since they rode into central Beeston atop a growling Hog, JG has forged a fiercely individual path, while snipping split ends and cutting in Euclidean fades. We talk to Elliot, the scissor-supremo who puts the bar into barbers.
It’s always heartening to see something different in town. For far too long, urban life has been dominated with a growing hegenomy of the High Street, as individualism gave way to national and multinational brands. You could be dropped into many high streets, and have no idea where you were, due to the sameness of place, where the chain stores of Penrith would be the same as the ones in Penzance. This cloying dullness seemed inevitable, unstoppable. Yet tides wash out as surely as they wash in, and when a motorbike and posters of hardcore US punk acts appeared in the glass frontage of a new barbers shop in Beeston, you got the feeling that something good was happening.
This would be JG Barbers, and that would have been January 2019. Since then, JG has continued this fierce individualism here in Beeston, challenging perceptions of what a barbershop can be. “I bought out a barbershop in Ashby called Just Gentlemen, and renamed it JG,” Eliot explains. “But I wanted to expand out of there. I was sitting in Rye (now Bistro 66) and saw the building opposite was up for lease. I arranged a viewing, and knew I’d found my place.”
But why Beeston? “It’s a diverse, creative place. People here are from all walks of life. When we were looking for a town to open a new branch we made a list of potential towns. Beeston ticked all the boxes.”
But was Beeston ready for high-concept barbers? “For a while when we first opened Danny (Elliot’s business partner) and I were just standing around not doing a great deal, five or six clients over ten hour days” The games consoles they’d installed remained resolutely unplayed, the leather sofas rarely sat upon. “But then people got an idea of what we were about, and business grew fast.”
One idea that took a little while to bend one’s head around was the reinvention of the barber’s waiting room: usually an uncomfortable place where men desperately try and avoid eye contact with each other while fingering a four year old copy of GQ, here was more like a pub, a place where you could actually relax a little before going under the snipping blades. It felt weirdly, almost guiltily, indulgent to get to feel like you’re round a mate’s house and listen to some Dead Kennedys for a bit. Better still, they sold beer.
“We did a bit of coffee in Ashby.” Eliot explains. “But in Beeston we saw some cross-over with what craft beer does, and thought ‘why the hell not?’. We began with 330ml cans, you could drink while waiting, during your appointment or when you got home. It proved popular, so after Covid we thought we’d expand it out and put a keg system in and began searching out good local independent beers”. The bar grew from a complementary extra to something with its own identity: before long you could drop in long after the last clump of cut hair has been swept up, and spend an evening trying out their range. It’s a strange feeling, as we discovered on our pub survey (see elsewhere in mag) to be supping somewhere so familiar, but why not? Within a few minutes, you forget the roped off barber chairs and enjoy the nocturnal side of the building. It’s great.
Yet is this a place exclusively for males: some sort of adolescent wish-fulfilment with a big sign over the door saying NO GIRLS ALLOWED? Elliot is hugely against this. “There should be no stigma or intimidation about going to the barbers” he states with passion “Non-binary, trans, whatever, you’re welcome. Everyone is welcome” He’s keen to break from that tired blokeish stereotype, and embrace the more gender-fluid aspects of modern life “We above all want people to feel welcome. At our last two events we’ve had more women than men attend. We’ve been made welcome in Beeston, so it makes sense. Come in, relax, enjoy the space. Have a beer. Have your hair done”.
We’ve been asking since our first issue back in 2011: “What is a town for?”. Since then, physical retail has been hollowed-out as we increasingly shop where our trolleys are icons, not pushed around. Service businesses fill the gap, and could make the same mistake as the shops they replaced through uniformity and ubiquity. Or they could rethink what they do, think about the customer experience and create something truly different and welcoming. Now into their fifth year here, we’re lucky to have them.
JM & MT