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  • Hank Daniszewski

East London 'old-school' barber shop to offer suds with shaves

Getting a shave and haircut while shooting the breeze and downing some suds with the boys.

That’s the appeal of Whistling Dick’s “old school” barber shop opening this month in Old East Village.

“There’s not a lot of all-male sanctuaries left where men can just be themselves,” said John Parlow, who is opening the shop with business partner Greg Kahnert.

What also sets Whistling Dick’s apart is that the owners are applying for a liquor license so it can be the first barber shop in the city where you can enjoy a beer, scotch or bourbon.

A relaxation of Ontario liquor laws back in 2012 made it easier for a wider variety of businesses to sell beer, wine or liquor and some Ontario hair salons and manicure businesses — including one that operated in London — have been granted licences.

Parlow said the old-time atmosphere will be reinforced with chess, checker and cribbage boards. Cellphone use will be discouraged.

“We are just looking for another place to hang out. We want our clients to be sociable,” said Parlow.

The barber shop will also sell some retail items, such as bow ties and socks.

A basic haircut will cost about $21.

The shop is located at 760 Dundas St. near English Street and has been extensively renovated with exposed yellow-brick walls and rough-cut pine build-outs and trim.

The barber shop’s name is inspired by the true story of Richard (Whistling Dick) Milburn, a nineteenth-century African-American busker and barber in Philadelphia.

Milburn composed the tune to Listen to the Mocking Bird but the writing credits went to Septimus Winner, a Philadelphia songwriter who wrote the lyrics. It went on to become a big hit in the Civil War era and more than twenty million copies of sheet music were sold. But Winner sold the rights for a mere $5 and Milburn never got a dime for the song.

Both Parlow and Kahnert are successful entrepreneurs. Parlow was a co-founder of Pulp n’ Press, an organic cold-pressed juice company whose product is now carried by more than 500 retailers. Parlow recently sold his interest in the company.

Kahnert owns WoodOnSteel and, which creates furniture from salvaged live edge wood.

The two first met seven years ago when Parlow went looking for furniture for his business and became WoodOnSteel’s first customer.

Parlow said the toughest part for establishing Whistling Dick’s so far has been hiring barbers.

“I thought that would be easiest part, but it’s been a challenge.”

Parlow said the investment in renovating the space is a vote of confidence in the revival of Old East.

The barber shop is next door to Freeborn and Co, a kitchen and interior design centre that opened last year in a historic bank building.

A nearby vacant lot, former site of the Embassy Hotel, has been slated for an affordable housing project with ground-floor commercial space.

Parlow said the Old East is moving toward the hip artistic image of Queen Street West in Toronto.

“In two years this area will not look anything like it does today,” he said.


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