NORTH KINGSTOWN – Most women have an internal GPS that unfailingly takes them to spas where they are soothed, groomed, massaged and de-stressed in settings that are inviting and inspire warm conversations.
Men? Not so much.
All that is changing in Wickford since the arrival of Ruby’s Barber Shop, a hideaway where guys encounter a calmer, gentler sort of man cave.
Presiding over this haven of pampering – where the coffee pot is always on and good books, magazines and games are available in the waiting area – is Ruby Richter, a vivacious woman who cuts hair while offering a sympathetic ear to men and boys of all ages.
Her base of operations is located behind the former Foodie’s, at 25 West Main St., and haircuts are administered in gorgeous Art Deco burgundy leather-and-chrome barrel barber chairs acquired from a shop that had been sold. The atmosphere is further complemented with candles, soft music and wonderful antiques displayed on walls and shelves.
A native of the Riverside section of East Providence, Ruby lives in North Kingstown’s Lafayette area. After 20 years as an at-home mom, she separated from her husband and took up barbering. She apprenticed with Gail McKenna at the Aloxi salon, on Boston Neck Road, and worked with “Sam the Barber” Matoes in his Post Road shop.
“I learned everything I know about barbering from Sam,” she says.
Ruby stresses that there’s no such thing as a “quickie cut” at her emporium where the standard charge is $15.
“I’m not a fast-cut operator; I’m deliberate. When I have people in my chair, if they’re quiet, there’s respect for that. A comfort level is reached here. People slow down and we talk. It becomes their time. The average length for a haircut is 45 minutes to an hour.
“It’s an intuitive thing – where a person’s coming from. Trust begins to build. A barber shop is a community; it’s an American gathering place.”
Besides haircuts, Ruby gives scalp massages and neck rubs which are, she says, “very much appreciated.” In the near future, she’ll add full-serve shaves with warm towels.
Ruby’s opened in April, after Sam began downsizing. She’d always loved the little building behind Foodie’s, she says, and during her search met “the wonderful young people” who worked there.
She took over the space, opening it up as one generous room including her two big chairs, waiting room seating, cupboards to hold the tools of her trade and a round table for relaxing with coffee and reading a book or playing one of the games she has including cribbage and chess.
Women, she adds, “always find great places; men don’t have that drive. I wanted it to be a place for men – masculine but civilized and respectable.”
The closing of both Foodie’s and the consignment store behind it leaves Ruby’s Barber Shop the last business standing in that complex. It has been upsetting.
It’s challenging to attract walk-in clients when people don’t realize that not everything in the complex is closed. Moreover, Ruby has had difficulty getting permission to erect signage in the form of a sandwich board in front of the Foodie’s building, pointing to her shop.
She’s relying on repeat customers and word-of-mouth. On one recent morning, a young man arrived seeking a haircut because his dad goes to Ruby and he really liked what he saw.
“I love to work with people,” Ruby says. “I want them to be refreshed and happy with their haircut. I go in conservatively and explain their hair as I go; hair reveals itself.” She recently showed a guy a couple of combing tricks to subdue a troublesome cowlick.
“I’ve seen cowlicks that look like the Sierra Nevada,” she says.
Inside Ruby’s man spa, there’s a vibe that combines relaxation with positive energy. Men can sink into a barber chair and say “Aaaaah” while being coddled to the nth degree, then leave the shop with a bounce in their step and the certainty that they look like a million bucks.
Ruby’s guestbook offers proof she’s doing the right things. Comments include: “Awesome! Thanks”; “Fun place”; “I’ll be back. Great setting.”
“If there’s any unhappiness with your haircut,” she states, “you can come back in and I’ll take care of it. A good haircut is about confidence and feeling great in your own skin.”
Ruby would like to see her space turn into a village gathering place where people might come for evening activities.
“I want everyone to feel welcome,” she says. “I want them to be comfortable and stay as long as they want.”
For more information about Ruby’s Barber Shop, call 465-7415.
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .