Barber Ha founder closes shop with sadness but few regrets

· The Pulse

When Linda Ha looks back at what led her to decide to close her barbershop, she sees a series of small decisions that resulted in an inevitability. But she stands by the principles that guided her decisions.

Barber Ha will close its doors on Whyte Avenue for good on March 31, nine days after announcing the decision in an email to clients. It's a product of many factors largely stemming from the pandemic, Ha told Taproot.

"It was actually quite a few things over a long period of time," she said. "Obviously, we had the closures at the beginning of the pandemic … As we were opening and closing, we weren't as booked as we were before — I don't know a lot of places that were — and of course, changing habits during this time was also a big factor."

There was also a "mass exodus" of staff who moved on to other opportunities, which Ha doesn't blame her former employees for. Add to that rising costs for everything from cleaning supplies to rent and internet service, plus perhaps the biggest challenge: debt from pandemic-relief loans.

"I did make some mistakes along the way," she said. "But also I'm not as cutthroat a business owner (as I could be)."

She described Barber Ha as a "community barbershop," where all are welcome regardless of gender, sexuality, or any other identifying factor. The mental health of her team was a top concern throughout the pandemic, she said. She could have raised prices. She could have changed her team's compensation model to chair-rentals, effectively putting them in competition with each other. Instead, she chose compassion.

"Do I regret the decisions I've made? No, I don't," she said. "There's just a lot of micro-decisions that have to be made, and sometimes I think the human part of me doesn't allow me to make the right business decisions."

The Barber Ha shop floor, with three barbers cutting hair in front of mirrors, surrounded by bright white walls and framed posters.

In the wake of its closure on March 31, Barber Ha is sharing social media handles and new appointments for its current barber staff on its Instagram page. (Supplied)

The announcement of the shop's closure on Instagram brought out support from fellow business owners.

"Linda, you shaped the whole salon/barber community in this city in a meaningful way. That's something to be really proud of. Next chapter will be equally great," wrote Gillian Thomson of Skipper.

"I have so many memories of and reasons to thank Barber Ha," said a post from Hideout Distro. "Aside from being such a great barber shop, you've been one of my favourite pop up venues for live shows and lil parties. Getting my first retail displays from you helped me start something I had no idea would evolve to be what it is now."

Ha, her sister Jennifer Ha, and the shop's Trevor Michael will all be moving to The Beauty Parlour at 10011 82 Avenue NW, just across the hallway from Barber Ha. As for the other barbers, Ha will be sharing their social media handles and new appointments on the shop's Instagram page.

Ha also said she is looking at opening a new space with just two or three chairs. When that comes to fruition, the shop will go by a new name as a way to get a fresh start.

Looking further back, Ha remembers working abroad and witnessing a vibrant, inclusive barber culture in London, England, that she knew she wanted to bring home. An in-demand stylist and colourist at a salon, she took the risk to open her own shop despite being laughed at and hung up on by male industry counterparts she went to for advice.

"A lot of people thought I was trying to open a barbershop that catered to men in a sexual way," she said. "I was not really welcomed at all, and it really pissed me off."

But the risk paid off when she proved her skeptics wrong. The first incarnation of Barber Ha opened in King Edward Park in 2011 before moving to its larger, 11-chair space on Whyte Avenue the following year. There, it had 11 mostly prosperous years that included hosting events and a loyalty program known as Ha Legion, where members could pay a one-time fee for a year of discounted haircuts and a card that offered deals around town.

Not every ending is a failure, either. Ha believes the community she and her team built will outlive the shop's four walls.

"I'm really proud of the fact that we have really amazing barbers, and I'm not worried about where they're going to end up because they're all really good people, and they're all really talented barbers," she said. "I know that what we do is what people value, and wherever (the barbers) go, they'll be OK."