The antique sign at 523 Henry Street doesn’t credit her name but long-time customers will know this barber shop as Lana’s Barber Shop.
Once offered three-thousand dollars for the sign, natives can rest assured that it won’t be sold or replaced anytime soon. In a rapidly changing neighborhood such as this one, some things deserve to stay put.
Meet Lana Deyeva, our loyal neighborhood barber.
In 1988, with a nominal amount of English packed in her bags, Lana left Ukraine and moved to Brooklyn. Having spent some time living in Italy, Carroll Gardens seemed the obvious choice when looking for work. Two memorable Italian barbers named Patsy and Philip were the men who hired Lana to cut hair in their barber shop, giving her the wonderful opportunity to mingle with the older generation of Italians.
“Customers loved Patsy and Philip,” Lana says with emphasis. “They were friends but complete opposites. Patsy looked liked he worked in an office - always with the crispy white shirt, gold pin, tie. He was someone that believed in dressing up no matter where you worked. He was low-spoken, never yelled, and he always gave you nice advice. Philip? He was the bubbly one. Chatty. He knew the dirty jokes.” Patsy and Philip eventually retired and sold to a man named Peter who decided to combine the barber shop with a reupholstering business. Peter took to the back of the shop while Lana worked the front. It was no wonder that Lana became the face of the barber shop. Three and a half years later, the business was hers.
It can’t be denied that Lana has a soft spot for the old Italians who once came and sat down in her chair. Unfortunately that generation is just about gone. “I’ll never forget this one man,” she begins. “He said to me ‘I’ll always come to you, so don’t worry - If I’m not here, it means I’m not alive.’” Lana leans back in her chair and smiles. “I don’t always get a lunch hour, you know? One day this man noticed that I hadn’t taken a break. He asked me ‘Did you eat anything? I’ve been sitting here, waiting in line, watching you take customers, but you haven’t eaten a thing.’ Fifteen minutes later, he comes back with this huge, huge sandwich! That’s Italian people for you. That kind of generosity is in their blood.”
It was at the barber shop where Lana really got a handle on the English language. Holding down a full-time job, on top of caring for a young son, it proved hard for her to take classes. “My customers were bighearted people who practiced with me. No one laughed!” She is beaming. “You know if I started working today, I’d be doomed. Back then though, in this neighborhood, people didn’t care. If they liked you, they always gave you a chance to survive because nobody ever forgot how it used to be. Now it’s a different mentality and I don’t think people are as willing to experiment.” Lana does have her share of younger customers though and she loves them just the same despite how many she has seen leave the neighborhood. “The boys now - they get girlfriends, they get married, and then they move away. I say a lot of ‘Goodbyes.’”
Today the barber shop is certainly busy but nowhere near as busy as it used to be.
Years ago, at seven-thirty on a Saturday morning, you had men lined up at the gate waiting for the door to open at 8 AM. “Now, the neighborhood is sleeping at eight o’clock,” Lana says, quite matter-of-factly. “Maybe I have my first customer close to ten o’clock, then a huge break, maybe another customer…” Actually, on the day I went to chat with Lana, she told me to come back in thirty minutes (she was finishing up with a customer). “It’s slow today,” she said. When I returned, she had one guy in the chair and four more waiting to see her. I guess you never know how many people will walk through your door on a given day. And that’s the beauty of the barber shop, no? That, and affordability! Fourteen dollars will get you a haircut and ten dollars will get you a shave.
So what’re you waiting for? Go and sit in this lovely woman’s chair. She’s been making the cut for over twenty years, you know.
523 Henry Street, Brooklyn NY
Photos by Max Flatow