by Charles Upchurch
photographs by Nick Pironio
Pete Phipps is telling me about the flag in the back of Arrow, his new Cameron Village barber shop.
“Came back from Afghanistan with me,” he says of Old Glory, hanging among assorted photographs, magazine covers, souvenirs, and mementos of an American life.
In a V-neck sweater and button-down shirt, his closely cropped hair squared away as neatly as one might expect from a former Army captain, Phipps, 31, exudes the confidence and decorum of the West Point man he is.
“Can I get you a beer?”
Part bar and part grooming parlor, Arrow is continuing a neighborhood legacy, offering affordable haircuts and hot shaves in a space where barbering has been a tradition since 1966. The old walls have found their voice again.
There are three customers in Arrow – one in a barber chair, one at the front counter reading the paper, and me. I’m the only one without a beer, and Phipps remedies that with a Fat Tire Winter Ale.
“I could have just put a cash register on the counter,” said Phipps, “but I figured if I made it into a bar, then I’ve created an atmosphere where people want to hang out.”
Free beer doesn’t hurt business. But beyond the complimentary beverage and the pithy slogan – “shorter hair guaranteed” – there’s a vibe in this humble enterprise that tugs at your sleeve. The interior, designed and built by Raleigh Architecture Co. and personalized by Phipps, is a modern expression of your grandfather’s basement, blending clean-cut nostalgia with the youthful verve of Raleigh’s creative zeitgeist.
It was precisely that undercurrent of cool that Phipps hoped to tap into when the Cleveland native decided to put down roots here. After his military career he landed a job with a Triangle pharmaceutical company, moving to Raleigh sight unseen. During that time, a simple revelation sparked an idea. His five-year hitch in the Army was over, and for the first time since high school, there were no free haircuts.
“My only choices were the national chains or the expensive salons,” he said. “I felt like there was a real opportunity for an old-style neighborhood barber shop with great customer service.”
Phipps had become enamored with Raleigh and admired the new class of independent merchants who were shaping the city’s future and building a quality of life that attracted even more like-minded souls. He was, he decided, one of them.
“On paper, Raleigh is a city,” he said, “but if you treat it like a town and get to know each other, it’s amazing what it gives back to you.”
It was coincidence – or perhaps not – that the old Professional Barber Shop space on Woodburn Avenue in Cameron Village became available as Phipps was scouting locations for Arrow. The space now sports an updated vintage style, which Phipps uses to showcase products from other local brands, including Lumina apparel, jewelry by Zass Designs and White Whale cocktail mixers, each with a story of its own. He even got Tasty Beverage, a Five Points purveyor, involved in his beer program.
As I sit down in one of the three swanky barber chairs to get my tonsorial touch-up from the delightful Michelle Hoffman, one of Arrow’s five full-time stylists, Phipps finishes a thought. “Recently I looked around the shop – in one chair was a woman getting a cut, in another was a young man drinking a beer and getting a straight razor shave, and in the other was a gentleman who has been coming here for 50 years,” he said. “That’s exactly what I wanted this place to be.”
I ask him again about the flag. He turns to look at it.
“I was with an embedded transition team training local army and police units out in rural areas – it flew over our operating base there.”
After his discharge, he and two Army buddies rode bicycles from Maine to San Francisco, taking the flag along. Fifty-one days, raising awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project. “The best time of my life,” said Phipps.
Great story. This place is full of them.