If you’re an Ann Arbor local, you’ve heard of Arcade Barbers. “Serving Ann Arbor since 1917,” the local barbershop has been a staple of the block-long historic shopping district, Nickels Arcade. Tiffany Royal, the owner since 2001, started working there in 1992 under the tutelage of the original owner, Russell Rutt.
Like so many small businesses, the mandated shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic has put Royal and her employees out of work indefinitely. It’s been taxing both mentally and financially, but it’s also created a stronger bond between the historic barbershop and its patrons.
What do you miss most about the shop right now?
TIffany Royal: The hugs, the conversation, the human interaction. Honestly, the good side of all this is I’ve rethought about the relationship we have with our customers. I knew they appreciated us, but I didn’t realize how much. It’s brought me to tears many times because of how generous they’ve been and how thoughtful. We’ve received so many letters and cards and messages on Facebook.
I know my job is important, but it’s not like I’m saving their life, but some almost word it like that. I get it: I’m embarrassed to go to the grocery store because my hair looks so bad! They send me pictures of the massacres they’ve done with their hair. It’s been fun to see and it keeps the mood light (and some have actually done a pretty good job).
One of the best parts about the shop is seeing multiple generations. So many patrons’ great-grandparents came here. It’s pretty neat.
When you are able to reopen, what do you expect that process to look like?
TR: It’s going to be nothing like it was before. Our shop has always been standing room only with five of us operating and people everywhere: outside, inside, and sometimes a two-hour wait.
Now, we can only have three chairs operating, six feet apart, and we can only do appointments. I’m also trying to figure out how to handle money so there’s as little touching as possible. We also need to allow time to do extra sterilizing and cleaning between customers.
What’s the best way for the community to continue supporting you?
TR: The shop has a GoFundMe page. It has been a lifesaver. I was very hesitant to start one (it’s a pride thing for me). I was hoping to survive without having one, but the customers who have added funds to it have paid the rent, so I am not losing my business yet. Literally, they have saved my butt!
If it came down to it, I would willingly lose my house, get a small apartment, and start over, rather than let the shop go. I need to leave it for my children as they get older, and I need them to have the money from the shop to pay for their college. It’s my nest egg.
For those who are not able to support us financially, encouraging messages are so heartwarming. Our patrons have been so kind. I’m so grateful.