A barbershop in decline

By Aziz Esmael/El Inde

As the sun rises on the city of Tempe, Arizona, many businesses get ready to open up their doors to sell goods or provide a service to their customers. Feras Jamous, a gentleman in his late 40s , stands tall at almost six feet, bald and with a full beard.

The first-generation Jordanian-Palestinian who owns and runs Jmoose Barbershop, starts his day at 9 a.m. He sanitizes the shop and cleans his barber kit, waiting for customers to roll in at 10 a.m. for his reopening after the state’s order to close down his shop at the beginning of April. Business is much slower than before. “It’s not normal at all,” says Jamous. “I don’t know if people are cutting their hair at their house, I don’t know what the case is.” 

When Jamous was 13, his parents migrated to the United States from Jordan to find a better life for the family. Jamous grew up working many different jobs, from providing transportation for hospitals, emissions tests for cars or serving banquets. Working for the banquets was the last straw for Jamous. “I was sick of corporate America,” he says, referring to working long hours beyond the typical 9-to-5 work schedule.

So Jamous decided to learn a skill and become the master of his own time and schedule to break the shackles of the long hours and the mundane jobs. After finishing barber school, he opened Jmoose Barber Shop, where he can set the hours and be his own boss.

Jamous saw his liberation in that shop and worked very hard to turn it into the busy barbershop that it is known to be. It has 6 barber stations, four on the left hand side, with Jamous’ station being the second one from the left. Across are the other two stations with a waiting area, a water cooler and a gumball machine, while the register is located in the middle of the space, at the end of a common area. Behind the register there is an entrance to a hallway that has a bathroom at the right end and a break room for the barbers on the left. In the center of the barbershop is a foosball table.

In 2008, when Jamous opened Jmoose Barbershop, it quickly became the hot spot for people in the area, particularly for many immigrants and Latinos who appreciate getting serviced from others who are similar to them, and who are also people of color. Jamous gained popularity quickly from international students and Middle Eastern men as one of the top barbers in Arizona.

Jmoose barber shop from the outside after business hours. Photo by Aziz Esmael/El Inde.

Throughout the years, word of mouth continued to spread, making the barbershop a busy destination spot. Eventually, it became Jamous’ and his family’s main source of income.

Jamous took major pride in what he did and considered going to work his career’s highest point. However, there is no greatness without challenges, as Jamous says; he is experiencing pains in his shoulder, back and legs from having to perform his job. And then, came the year 2020. 

Based on what he was seeing in the news, Jamous was very worried about how fast the coronavirus could spread and how it could potentially affect his shop. He knew that even the temporary closure of his shop could hurt the family and might lead to potential permanent closure if he couldn’t recover from the loss of his clientele. When the crisis led Arizona to issue an order for certain businesses to close in order to stop the virus from spreading, Jmoose Barbershop had to close down.

“I enjoyed the three to five days I spent without work at first, enjoying the relaxing days, but then it got old and you start worrying about income and providing for your family,” he said. 

Despite the government’s efforts to stimulate the  economy at that time by releasing the stimulus package, many people continued working by doing house calls or accepting customers in their residence. Barbers have continued working, fearing the loss of their clientele and trying desperately to keep up the momentum that will keep them financially stable.

“You do what you gotta do,” says Jamous. However, since he is the owner of the barbershop, he has to take care of bills and other expenses for his family and his business. The government has issued small business loans with zero interest to help businesses such as Jmoose Barbershop. After months of battling for survival and being under the stress of what could happen in the future, Jmoose Barbershop finally opened back up again after the order of closure had expired.

But when Jamous reopened his shop, a couple of his barbers refused to come back to work for fear of the virus, and despite his sanitation procedures, he was surprised by how slow business was. Either customers are still afraid, Jamous thought, or they are cutting their hair at home.

What was once one of the busiest barbershops in Tempe, now feels like a newly opened barbershop that is trying to build a loyal clientele from scratch. Jamous continues to work hard on his feet from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day; working despite his fears and his doubts of the future, or “the unknown,” as Jamous describes it. The fear is mainly based on the potential return of the virus and putting everyone in their homes again.