Germantown: Where a Man’s Barbershop is his CastleBy A.J. Groy and Kyle DeLone
The cutters stand by their barber chairs as if on guard. A large television blasts MTV Jams or ESPN. Over the sound of clippers humming, men debate politics, sports, women and plans to close the neighborhood high school.
Welcome to The Castle Unisex Salon at 157 East Chelten Avenue, one of dozens of barbershops that dot the streets of Philadelphia’s Germantown section.
In business for a decade, the Castle has attracted a loyal following in the neighborhood and beyond. Though it used to cut women’s hair, it now focusses on men.
“Every guy who comes in here is like a work of art,” said veteran barber Ray Patterson. “I see every head as the canvas and I’m the artist. If I can help someone learn, that’s what it’s about, furthering the craft.”
Mikal Ellis — also known as Puzzle or Mr. Hollywood — owns the establishment and has successfully promoted his “brand” with local residents and with a plethora of professional athletes.
Among his customers are Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy and longtime NBA players Lamar Odom and Grant Hill. “I cut the Sixers,” said Puzzle, who makes house calls to the athletes at their homes. “I just worked with Thad Young (Sixers forward) on Easter.”
Like other barbershops in the neighborhood, the Castle is not just a place to get a hair cut. It’s also a place where men gather to swap stories, tell jokes and while away the time when there’s nothing else to do. Some customers come in just for the conversation.
For the barbers, the Castle is also a place to learn a trade – a way to make a living. “The Castle has been used as a stepping stone for barbers in the neighborhood,” Puzzle explained. He said some had gotten their start in the profession at his shop and then gone on to open their own shops.
That’s the goal of Ron Wright, the newest barber at the Castle. Known as The Rookie among his co-workers, Wright began cutting hair in West Philadelphia and came to Castle to improve his skills. “I needed a way to make some money and ended up enjoying what I’m doing,” he explained.
Wright credited Patterson with teaching him new techniques. “He gave me a lot of pointers to help me step my game up,” Wright said. “He taught me how to blend in my fades and curve my lines.”
The Castle is a walk-in business open six days a week from 7:30 am until around 7 p.m. The store is closed on Sunday unless an appointment is scheduled.
What’s the price of a haircut? It differs from customer to customer. Manager Mike Bucknor said, “First cut is always $15, but it really depends on the individual, whether they are getting designs or whatever.” He added, “A $20 cut could cost $30, $35 dollars sometimes. Some people refuse to pay less than $30 or $40 for their haircut.”
Some customers come to the Castle because their barber has moved there from another shop. Eddie Kane, for instance, followed Ray Patterson to the Castle three years ago and has been coming back ever since.
“I followed Ray because he is sharp,” Kane said. “It’s a clean, well- kept barber shop, and a nice place to spend time and talk about things.”