Korean Barbershop Owners Provide a Wholistic Approach to Cutting Hair

As the cost of living rises in Bloomingdale, residents are at risk of sacrificing pampered luxuries. The owners of 1st Street Haircut want to keep prices low while offering the best experience.

First Street Haircut is anything but your average barbershop. The quaint little shop sits tucked away in the middle of a rapidly progressive neighborhood in Ward 5’s Bloomingdale area. This neighborhood provides its residents with an expanding variety of small businesses including an improv theater, yoga studio, low-key lounge, numerous places to grab a quick bite to eat and at the corner of the street sits a patio wine bar.

It’s the perfect residential neighborhood for millennials, and this small barbershop sits ever so discreetly in the middle of it all. If it weren’t for its raving reviews, 1st Street Haircut, which sits at street level below a brownstone, just might be overlooked.

Three minutes after 5 p.m., Gina Choe works tirelessly as she finishes her final haircut appointment of the day. As the steady buzz of the clippers become noticeable background noise in the modest barbershop, the vibrant sound of steel meeting hair is hypnotic. While Choe carefully clips, cuts and gently brushes locks of hair to the floor, her husband Eric Soon, who also serves as her longtime business partner develops their social media presence and business side of the barber shop. They have a divide and conquer system down pat at this small business.

“I actually love the service I get here. I’ve been to a lot of barber shops in D.C. that have crazy prices. The prices could easily run from $60 to $75. But here, the price is super reasonable and affordable. I’ll never stop coming.” answered one of Choe’s loyal customers since the fall of 2018.

While Gina Choe has only been cutting hair at her family owned barber shop in the Bloomingdale neighborhood since its opening in March 2018, she is no stranger to the haircutting business. Choe has been cutting hair for over 20 years and prides herself on her specialty military fade.

“In the black community, there are so many different hairstyles. Salons and barbershops located in minority communities must be willing to offer different services in order to benefit,” says Dennis Smith, project director of Washington DC’s Minority Business Development Agency.

Originally from South Korea, Gina Choe and Eric Soon relocated their business to the Bloomingdale neighborhood from Virginia, where Choe was cutting hair on a military base. After becoming fascinated with everything that this progressive neighborhood had to offer, the couple decided that they wanted a change of pace and scenery. “It was cheaper and much easier to start a shop in D.C. Before we started our business here, we would come to the area every night to check out the scene,” said Soon.

While finding the perfect location to start their new barber shop and business venture may have been the most natural part, over the past year Gina and Eric have experienced their fair share of challenges. 

When asked of such challenges Soon says, “Sometimes it’s a waiting game. As a new business in the area, there have been times that we didn’t have any customers at all. Even today we may only have one customer come in.

Dennis Smith says, “A business must be willing to diversify itself and cater to the people in the area. Every business plan needs to follow trends of the area. You don’t want to make a business plan in your mind, go out and look at the data and your business is not supporting that.”

“If minorities or someone of color wants to start a business in Bloomingdale, they need to evaluate why they chose this area. Where are customers going? What are minorities looking for?” says Smith.

The couple aims for a holistic approach in making sure that every customer leaves their establishment feeling their absolute best. “Look, we even have this massage chair for the people that want to wait. We put on Netflix and let them relax and sit. Even though we’re just starting up, we expect to give only the best,” said Soon.

“I’ve been in the same salon since 1997, and It’s more than just doing hair. Owning a business is also about keeping the lights on. In a way, it’s like the evolution of man. A man who can’t evolve with climate change dies. It’s all about being available and adaptable to people’s needs.” says Master Bey, owner and leading stylist at A- Lyst Cultivating Beauty Center.

A local barbershop can be found in just about every community in every city. What makes this small business special is Choe and Soon’s mission to unite and diversify the neighborhood, by offering a service that has been around for centuries.

While Eric Soon does most of the talking and translates for his wife, Gina Choe lets her haircutting skills speak for itself. Soon says, “A barbershop is a very important part of a residential neighborhood. When you look nice, it’s helping for a long time. There are many people looking to give a haircut; we want to do more than that. We want to give an overall good experience to help people feel their best.”

The owners pride themselves on being a go-to spot for parents who want to get their child’s hair cut. In the middle of the barbershop sits a race car salon stool that children love when it’s time for their cut. “There was a time when three kids came in and argued over who would sit in the race car for a haircut. Of course, all of them took turns and eventually sat in the chair,” said Choe.

The married couple created a cozy barbershop aiming to please every customer that walks through their doors. 

Soon says, “We don’t have a lot of money now or when we started. But we try our best. We try to decorate and keep it clean.”