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Brooklyn’s clip joint confidential - Step into ‘Evolution’ for a clean cut and a dose of neighborhood culture

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One by one, Alberto Abreu diligently fades, tapes-up, and shapes-up hair in his small 25-by-11-square-foot Sunset Park barbershop, Evolution. The guys here are chilling bobbing their heads and tapping their feet to merengue as they wait patiently their turn on Alberto’s chair on this Friday evening. For these gentlemen, a fresh cut is the first step taken before getting dapper and enjoying a night out on the town. Customers say Alberto is “good money,” a slang term meaning he is good at his job. They know Alberto is aware of the small intricacies regarding their hair and the way it grows. Chris Perez now travels from Coney Island to 48th Street to get his haircuts by Alberto after the barber noticed Perez wore a baseball hat all the time because he was insecure about his thinning hair. Stilo, as Alberto is known inside the shop, stopped Perez in the streets one day and told him to come to Evolution next time he planned on getting a cut because he would take care of his hair. “He told me he was going to cut my hair in a way that would make my hair grow in evenly,” Perez says. The barber explained to Perez that he would initially give him a fade without cutting the thinning hair Perez had on top. This would allow his thinning hair to grow evenly with his faster growing side hairs. The next time Alberto gave him a shape-up, a clean up of the hairs along the neck, sideburns and hairline, so that Perez’s hair looked fuller and continue to grow uniformly. “Eventually he was right,” says Perez. Alberto takes his time perfecting each haircut. He thinks of his work as art. No two haircuts, like two drawings, are the same to Alberto. Every man’s hair grows in its own unique way, says the 28-year-old barber, and therefore Alberto makes sure that each man gets a cut suitable to him. “There are slight differences in each person’s hair style,” says Alberto in Spanish. “I like that because if every cut was the same there would be no challenge.” Yet, as much as Alberto enjoys his art craft, being able to socialize and connect with people brings him the most satisfaction. Customers are not just customers at Evolution, located at 506 48th Street. There is a more intimate feeling of kinship shared between them and Alberto. Customers are friends of the shop and not solely clientele. Everything is discussed at Evolution: politics, history, food, sports, and of course women. Clients even share the most personal aspects of their lives with Alberto. He believes the role of a barber is not to simply cut the person’s hair but also to listen and impart advice, sort of like a pseudo-psychiatrist. “Socializing with people and making friends is the best part of being a barber. A barber hears everything,” Alberto says. “People come to the shop with their issues and we do more than cut their hair, we listen to them and provide them with some comfort.” The charismatic barber is slim and wiry. His own hair is curly and is taped-up with his sideburns neatly shaped to extend across his cheeks. Alberto is superstitious. Above his workstation is a framed picture of an amusing blue-faced ape he says brings him good luck. That was not always the case for Alberto back home in the Dominican Republic. He was born in the textile and mining town of Bonao, located on the eastern footprints of the Cordillera Central. Bonao is rich with nickel, bauxite, and silver deposits. Nonetheless, Alberto’s parents struggled to provide a decent living for him and younger brother Joel. The family managed to live better than most residents of this poor and lower-middle class town, if only marginally. Money became tight after Alberto’s father died from a brain tumor. His mother was relegated to working longer shifts as a nurse at a private clinic to make up for the income her husband had earned as a disco club administrator. “My mother worked very hard so that we could have a better life,” says Alberto in admiration. He eventually picked up her work ethic and at 12 years old began cutting hair. A comb and a pair of scissors were all he had when he began cutting hair at home. Once Alberto turned 14, he graduated to a local barbershop where he worked after school. Things were rough initially because he was young and people didn’t have confidence in him. With hard work and time he built a good reputation and clientele at various barbershops until he had saved enough money to open his own shop in town. Over time he owned three barbershops, each one bigger than the last. When Alberto moved to New York in 2004, the pattern repeated itself. He had to re-establish himself. He began working at a barbershop on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn after a hometown friend recommended him to the shop’s owner. The ambitious barber worked there for a year and half before investing in Evolution, choosing that name because he believes a barber should continue to improve and change. “He has something big of his own now that started with little means,” says Joel, 27, who works at Evolution alongside Stilo and Miguel Cruz, better known as “Mexico.” Evolution is small but its size adds to its friendliness. Alberto has equipped the barbershop with two televisions, a Playstation 2, a DVD player, and a radio for his friends to enjoy. On this Friday night, Stilo plays every genre of music that customers request: merengue, salsa, bachata, reggaeton, and hip-hop all get rotation. However, it is the conversations here that liven the atmosphere. Simultaneous discussions take place from time to time; some more boisterous than others, but Stilo still manages to cut hair efficiently while engaging them in every conversation. “He’s a peoples’ person. He makes you want to come back,” says Perez about his barber. “You have to be personable with people and give off positive vibes in order to be a good stylist,” Alberto says. Alberto has come a long way from his struggles back home. He never forgets to look out for his mother; often he sends money to make life easier for her. The married father of two is determined to have a bigger barbershop in a year. “I never thought I would make it this far but I never let the limitations of my childhood stop my drive,” Alberto says proudly.

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