I once cut hair with a Flowbee. For those of you who don’t remember, the Flowbee is, according to its website, a “revolutionary home haircutting system” that employs a vacuum to suck hair into recessed blades. The Flowbee gained notoriety in the late 1980s though a low-budget, high-kitsch infomercial and the fact that no other product can honestly boast a “refreshing vacuum haircut.”
Oliver Coleman, aka Ollie, owner of Ollie’s Traveling Barber on Ridge Avenue, is unimpressed by my barbering credentials. The Philadelphia native has been cutting hair for almost thirty years. He attended Tri-City Barber School where his son is also currently learning to wield a pair of clippers.
Ollie not only has a traditional, neighborhood shop, he takes his haircut show on the road as well.
The traveling barber thing must be some sort of hoity-toity service for celebrities, right? Not really. “Business men call me to their office,” Coleman says. But mostly the service is for anyone who can’t make it to the shop.
Some of the regular customers on his traveling beat are “disabled guys, veterans that lost their legs and can’t make it up here.” So you don’t have to be a celebrity to have Ollie come to you, but if an A-list star called tomorrow, Coleman would figure out a way to work him in. “I would even do Jay-Z just to see Beyoncé,” he jokes.
It takes Coleman about 15 minutes to do a haircut once he arrives on location. Walk in the shop and you get the same kind of quick service, but you might want to linger for the conversation and general male camaraderie. Coleman shows me a pool table in the back for “the old-timers” and anyone else who wants to run his mouth while he runs the table.
Despite the testosterone, or maybe because of it, Ollie’s has a few female customers as well and on certain days a stylist who braids hair. Coleman prides himself on the fact that his shop, open since March of this year, is an inclusive environment. He has both black and white barbers on staff, trained to cut all grades of hair.
Now if only his inclusivity extended to Flowbee barbers, I could quit my day job and blaze a trail for vacuum hairstylists everywhere.