A Haircut With a Side of History

Arthur Rubinoff’s NYC Barber Shop on Columbus Ave. near W. 74th St. | Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | Where can you find swords worthy of King Arthur, the red, white, and blue of barber poles whirling, and opulent chandeliers dripping with crystals? Easy, at the latest addition to the city’s cultural landscape: the NYC Barber Shop Museum.

A blue, good-sized replica of Lady Liberty greets you near the museum’s door at 290 Columbus Ave., near W. 74th St.

Billed as the first of its kind in the city, the museum is also a functioning barber shop — the fifth location for a chain called Reamir.

Arthur Rubinoff, 43, is the man behind Reamir and the museum, and, for him, both are a family affair.

“I created that name,” he told Manhattan Express during a recent visit to the museum.

The word Reamir, he explained, was created from the first letters of his immediate family’s first names.

Some of the vintage barber shop equipment Arthur Rubinoff shows off in his Columbus Ave. museum. | Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic

“My father’s name is Rubin, my mom’s name is Esther, I’m Arthur, my wife’s name is Marina, my oldest son’s name is Isaac, and the youngest son’s name is Raffael,” he said. “In old Greek, the name means newborn or peace and it just popped up in my mind.”

Under the company’s logo, the shop’s signage states it was established in 1947 — a nod to when his father, the inspiration for the museum, was born.

“He was a fifth child, our family was very poor so my grandfather after six months opened up a barber shop,” Rubinoff recalled. “He used to say to my father when he grew up that, ‘You were my lucky charm, when you came to this world, I opened up a barber shop.’”

Around 1972, Rubinoff’s father went to Kiev — then part of the Soviet Union — to learn about new haircutting techniques, and then he “bought new style and wash, cut, and dry to Uzbekistan, city of Fergana,” Rubinoff said.

Rubinoff was born in 1974, and eight months later his father opened up a men’s salon, he said, and he became his father’s lucky charm.

“I consider myself a fourth-generation barber,” Rubinoff said. “My great-grandfather was working for somebody, and, again, this is in our blood. Even my oldest son is a barber so he’s a fifth-generation barber.”

In early 1989, the family emigrated from what is now Uzbekistan to Forest Hills in Queens. Rubinoff said he never graduated from school and, instead, started working to help his family.

His father opened his first barber shop in 1991 in Forest Hills, with the family eventually opening up 31 barber shops from then until now, many of which were sold to barbers who worked at the establishments, he said.

“My father’s idea when we got to this country is to create jobs, to be an American dream, and that’s what he did,” Rubinoff said.

In the early 1990s, Rubinoff took a break from barbering to work as a jeweler, and said he designed jewelry for Tupac Shakur. But by 1999 he was back to the profession, opening up his first store under the Reamir brand at 303 Columbus Ave. between W. 74th and 75th Sts. Ten years later, he opened his second location on the Upper West Side at 512 Columbus Ave. at W. 85th St., and the chain has two more spots, at 141 E. 44th St. and 251 E. 57th St.

Upon entering the museum, a photo of Rubinoff’s father is one of the first things a visitor sees. As an only child, he said his father was his best friend.

“We had no secrets from each other whatsoever,” he said. “Honestly, if I dated a girl or I was doing something wrong, I used to come and ask him.”

His father started collecting antique tools of the trade, such as razors and chairs, when Rubinoff was 15, and he recalled, “I was laughing at him, like, why are you buying this junk? You know, I was young, and he passed away in 2003 from a brain tumor.”

Those artifacts of the profession that his dad bought took on a sentimental value for Rubinoff, who then started collecting as well.

“When he passed away I decided to buy more stuff, and once when I asked him a question, ‘Why are you buying this junk?,’ he said, ‘Maybe when I get old, when I be bored, I’ll open up a museum as a joke’ — I think it was a joke,” he said.

Rubinoff searches for memorabilia at garage sales, antique stores, and flea markets — even purchasing items in Las Vegas and shipping them back to the city. He says he has more than 1,000 pieces.

The museum is 670 square feet, and Rubinoff said rent is not cheap.

“So how we’re going to make it more interesting is that we’re going to rotate stuff, like for now, we’re going to do it every six months,” he said. “Then I’m still buying and I’m still on the market for older and new pieces. So if we get more stuff, maybe then I’m gonna do every three months, every quarter we exchange.”

The museum — first spotted by the blog West Side Rag — opened on June 15, and Rubinoff said he is registering it as a nonprofit. The museum is free but people can make donations if they choose.

“I really give respect to all barbers and stylists in the world because I consider this… as artistry,” he said.

A lot of people, including tourists, have already visited the museum since it opened, he said.

“Nine out of 10 love it,” Rubinoff said. “You cannot please everybody — just like in haircuts.”

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