Angelica’s hair salon on Valencia and 21st doesn’t look like the rest of the trendy boutiques sprinkled along the block. It doesn’t boast artisan coffee, whimsical stationary, or silky leather boots. A simple white sign juts out from the window, reading, “Angelica’s,” in red bubble letters, and in black print below, “Hair Salon.” That’s it. And on this street of perfectly curated aesthetically pleasing everything, the simplicity of it all dares you to step inside.
Creak. The door lurches open to reveal a tiny room with a steady flow of customers. The walls are papered with framed pictures of haircuts, a Diego Rivera poster peeps out from the back room and a gold-embossed Virgin Mary painting hangs above three flowers drenched in red.
Angelica, the salon’s only hairdresser for the afternoon, is diligently trimming, teasing, and styling hair of all textures and hues: wispy, fluffy, kinky, the occasional male buzz cut. She looks like her name, an Angelica, with wavy dirty blonde hair pulled into a half ponytail, a dainty nose, and full brown eyebrows.
On any given weekend afternoon, the no-frills hair salon is crowded with customers. Its reasonable prices are certainly a draw — according to data compiled by the company Square, San Francisco charges the most expensive haircut on average ($60) out of any other city in the country. Despite an influx of money and demographic shift on Valencia, the salon has been on the block for a long time and is home to a steady stream of loyal patrons (one woman waiting for a cut this afternoon said she’s been going for the past six years).
But the investment in Angelica’s might span beyond the cheap price tag and good service: according to articles ranging from Chicago to Britain, barbershops are making a comeback. If the uptick in barber licensing in California is any indication, the same is true here. From July 2009 to June 2010, 890 barber licenses were issued, according to the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology Quarterly Statistical Report; while from July 2012 to June 2013, that number to 1515.
Angelica drapes a purple plastic robe over a young woman in the hot seat and hands her a big book crammed with pages of hair samples. “Pick the one you want,” she says in Spanish. The woman points to a rich amber color and then rifles through a “People Español” magazine (other magazines on the table: Sunset, Where to Retire), examining a photo spread of Sofia Vergara. Now, the room is silent, save for the crooning of Gym Class Heroes on 96.5 KOIT (“Light Rock, Less Talk.”)
Outside, a pair zooms down the street with matching tribal print yoga mat carriers, rushing past an elderly woman ambling into the shop. Her silvery mane is knotted into a bun and a faded headband with multicolored peace signs pushes the hair away from her face. She chatters with Angelica in Spanish for a few minutes, explaining what she wants.
“It just needs life,” she exhales dramatically. Angelica nods and the woman crumples into her seat, taking her place in a line of four customers: At Angelica’s, if you want a hair cut, you have to wait. The salon doesn’t do appointments nor does it accept credit cards.
Customers don’t seem to mind the cold cash stipulation. This is, after all, one of the few places in the neighborhood that offers haircuts for less than $20 (“16$ for a woman’s hair cut, it’s a first reason to put a 5 stars here,” reviewed a user on Yelp.)
The majority of the customers this busy Saturday afternoon are older and Spanish speaking, but there are a few exceptions. There’s a quiet, freshly scrubbed young woman with fine strawberry blonde hair. Angelica gingerly places the purple robe over her shoulders, grabs a handful of hair, and coils it into a French twist. “Just a trim,” the girl murmurs. “I haven’t gotten it cut since summer.” She gazes at her reflection and purses her lips. “And could you do my bangs?”
Yes, of course Angelica can do her bangs. She trims them quickly and deftly and when she’s done, she swipes them to the side, Twiggy style, the girl’s right eyebrow shrouded beneath their cream-colored tips. “Thank you, this is perfect!” she says, and bounds out the shop after paying, her hair all bounce and shine.
Laya, a young Lebanese woman with a laugh that makes you feel hilarious, takes a seat. She’s visiting from New York City. “I come to San Francisco as much as I can,” she says. Her brother recommended the shop and this is her second time getting cut by Angelica. Was she satisfied? “I’m back aren’t I?” she laughs. “Yes. I liked the haircut. All the other salons around here are ridiculously expensive. It’s so unnecessary!”
Angelica’s scissors fly around Laya’s hair rhythmically: trim-chop-slice, trim-chop-slice, trim-chop-slice. The cut is like a push-up bra for Laya’s hair: everything looks bigger, fuller, Instagramable. Laya chirps a thank you and heads outside, soon to be replaced by Wilma, an elderly woman in a brown puff coat.
“How are you?” Angelica asks. “Sweating,” Wilma grunts in Spanish, setting her cane on the ground. She’s been coming to Angelica’s for years and years, so long that she’s “lost track!” She settles into her seat and taps her left foot to Taylor Swift on the airwaves, humming along to Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble.” “I’m getting a lot cut today,” she ruffles her short grey bob. “It’s totally lost its shape.”
She points to a large bouquet of flowers, a wicker basket filled with red and white roses. “Did your crazy husband get those for you?” Angelica smiles. A faint blush creeps into her cheeks. It’s the most expression she’s revealed all morning. She glances at the flowers, a pair of scissors dangling from her index finger. “Yes. Yes he did, the crazy.”