Local barbers filling area’s ‘dire need’ with additional shops

When Makiah Cooper started working at Cadillac Cutz Barbershop Studio in Dubuque over 20 years ago, barbershops in the area were few and far between.

Recently, that has begun to change, with more barbers establishing their own businesses in the area. Cooper said he has enjoyed seeing the local industry grow.

“It never used to be like that,” Cooper said of having more barbers open for business in the Dubuque area. “Growth is awesome. I love the growth. It’s really changed over the years.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2022, an estimated 12,690 people were employed as barbers in the country. According to the 2022 report, 290 barbers were employed in Iowa, which boasts the third-highest concentration rate in the country. That same report states 240 barbers were employed in Wisconsin in 2022; Illinois data was not available.

The BLS also reports that the overall employment of barbers, hairstylists and cosmetologists is projected to grow 11% nationwide from 2021 to 2031, faster than the average rate of growth for all other occupations.

Professionals in the tri-state area say area demand has spiked. Many of them cut hair for years before recently branching off and opening their own businesses, including Cooper, who owns Cadillac Cutz at 1573 Elm St.

“We’ve got to go back many moons,” Cooper said with a laugh. “My mom used to cut our hair, and she was thorough. I got that from her. She taught us that if we do something, do it right the first time. But she only knew one hairstyle, and that’s what I still wear today.”

Cooper said he previously cut hair in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, prior to working in Dubuque.

“I picked up a pair of clippers, and I never put them down,” he said. “I always liked taking something and changing the image of it. It’s image enhancing. It’s not just a haircut. A haircut is powerful, and I look at it like that. I enjoy helping people, and this is one form of a way that I can help people.”

Until recent years, Cooper said demand for Cadillac Cutz’s work was high due to low supply. The business operates both the brick-and-mortar shop and a mobile unit.

“When I came into the city, there was a demand for what we do: detailing,” he said. “We detail everybody’s haircut, and that was the demand.”

Now, there are more professionals working to meet that increasing demand.

Derrick Clark opened Tight Fade Barbershop at 1398 White St. in September but has cut hair for over 20 years.

“I started cutting hair when I was a kid,” he said. “I started cutting hair in the neighborhood, and I never went away from it. I had other jobs or whatever, but I always went back to this.”

Clark said he has been “really, really busy” since opening the barbershop and he’s met many people throughout his career. He added that Dubuque barbers also benefit from the many college students coming in every semester, along with tourists. He said people in town on riverboat cruises look him up and come in for a haircut.

“There’s a lot of people in Dubuque,” Clark said. “One barbershop is just not going to cut it. There is a dire need for salons and barbershops. I would love to see it grow. I would love to see competition in the hair industry. They have a lot of hair battles in the bigger cities, and I would love to see Dubuque grow that big on the hair side.”

The need for additional barbers is felt not only in Dubuque, but in smaller communities as well.

Victoria and Libby Small opened Fade Babe in February at 132 N. Riverview St. in Bellevue, Iowa, to meet the need for a barbershop in the community after a longtime shop closed.

“Bellevue is littered with hair salons, but they are all appointment-only,” Victoria Small said. “I wanted to offer a space where people didn’t have to worry about missing their hair appointment, because that doesn’t fit with everybody’s schedules.”

Victoria Small said the shop has been busy since it opened, and she continues to be excited about the community support for a career she fell in love with after being dared to attend hair school.

“My best friend wanted to do it (go to hair school), and she said, ‘I bet you can’t finish,’” Victoria Small said. “I said, ‘Watch me.’”

That determination and penchant to take on challenges has served her well in the industry.

“(Men’s haircuts) are a one-and-done,” Small said. “If you mess up on the haircut, there’s no blending it out with other colors or canceling your mistake. You have to make it work. That’s what I love most, showing men the different styles you can have.”

Ana Neuhaus opened King Kutz in January at 3372 Center Grove Drive, near Hampton Inn, in Dubuque.

“I would say within the last two years, about three or four (barbershops) popped up,” Neuhaus said. “I knew the older generation (of barbers) was starting to retire, and seeing these other ones pop up, I myself saw this huge opportunity. For everybody that decides to go off on their own, it’s completely terrifying but completely worth it in the end.”

Neuhaus’ love of cutting men’s hair stems from her time working at Great Clips for four years.

“I love working with a clipper,” she said. “The different things you can do with a clipper is amazing. I knew that there was a demand for men’s grooming here in town. There’s not a ton of us. I also opened it up because I wanted everyone in the Dubuque community to feel like there was a place to go where they would feel accepted.”

Even with the addition of more barbershops, Neuhaus said she feels the area’s demand for barbers is still prevalent.

“We’ve had two or three (barbers) for about 10 years,” she said. “I think the demand is huge in Dubuque. I have clients coming to me that were driving all the way to Chicago, Cedar Rapids or Iowa City, just to get a haircut. It’s a ginormous market for it. I know there’s more now, but there’s plenty to go around.”