When Lance Wright started cutting hair, he was a student at the University of Montana who wanted to make sure his friends looked as sharp as possible before heading out for the weekend.
“It was just for some friends; I’d clean them up before they go out on the weekends and end up with some spending money,” Wright said last week. “I never even thought about doing it professionally.”
Now Wright cuts hair, shaves beards with a straight razor, and otherwise generally embodies the old-school barbershop feel he wants to bring to his new business, Whitefish Barbershop. The shop, now open, is located in downtown Whitefish on Baker Avenue near the intersection with Second Street.
The space is large and open, visible through large windows written over with script detailing a barbershop and men’s mercantile, fit with refurbished barber chairs from the 1920s, a tiled floor, antique barber poles, and plenty of space for clients to get comfortable and hang out while they wait for a cut or just chew the fat with the other patrons.
“It’s cash only,” Wright said. “We run it like an old-school barbershop.”
Wright works at the shop with his wife, Danielle Wright, who manages the mercantile section of the shop. This space is dedicated to “men’s stuff,” Wright said, with beauty products like combs, beard balms, oils, pomades, sitting alongside wool socks, hearty soups, and more.
People used to socialize face to face all throughout the day, Wright said, before technology and social media made it unnecessary. Sure, men can shop for hair products online, but Wright said he’s seen more guys who want to come in and talk about what they’re buying, and then talk about whatever else is going on.
“That’s why we went with the whole entire traditional style, people coming in, sitting and waiting,” Wright said. “Guys are coming in, they’re putting their feet up and hanging out with the guys.”
To be sure, not all of Wright’s clients are men. He has a handful of repeat customers who are women with short hair, and women are absolutely welcome at the shop, he said. But Wright doesn’t know how to cut long hair, and that’s where his chance to work with many women ends, he said.
“My wife asks me to cut her hair and I don’t even know where to start,” he said. “And I don’t want to mess that up.”
Wright’s family moved to the Swan in 1992 when he was a kid, and he fell in love with the Flathead Valley. He had a few different jobs, including selling boats and cars for a while, but six years ago his artistic urges saw him head to Arizona, where he earned his barber’s license.
“I fell in love with the [Flathead] but finding work can be tough,” he said.
He worked at several shops afterward, devoting a year to each place. He learned various skills at different places, including what he calls the “old-school technique stuff you didn’t learn in a regular barbershop,” like how to give a proper straight-razor shave.
While he loved earning his experience, Wright hopes to make the path a little simpler for future barbers in the Flathead Valley. In April, he plans to have his instructor’s license, and eventually begin a barber school here. He’d also like to be able to take on apprentices at some point.
Otherwise, Wright sees the shop as a place for folks to hang out and hear the latest updates from their friends and neighbors.
“We wanted that big 1920s style, so people feel comfortable in there waiting and you’re not just crammed in,” Wright said.
Whitefish Barbershop is located at 235 Baker Ave., Ste. 101. For more information, call (406) 890-1209 or visit the shop’s Facebook page.