116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Down at the corner barbershop, the low murmur of relaxed conversation is accompanied by Marvin Gaye.
“It’s been a blast,” Christopher Krause said one morning this past week. “We’ve had a lot of fun and we’ve all been fortunate to earn a comfortable living doing what we love to do.
“We’ve grown the business from eight staff members to 23 at both locations, so it’s been really exciting.”
Krause, 37, opened the Men’s Room in September 2015, 10 years after moving to Cedar Rapids from Fort Dodge to attend one of the state’s two licensed barber training schools. He’d had plenty of practice on the heads of friends and family.
“It’s something I did throughout high school for my friends, and in college,” he said. “It’s something I kind of ended up settling for, but I’m glad I did. Whatever other career path I would have embarked on would have been less gratifying.”
Krause opened his first shop downtown in 2008, “three months and one week before the flood. That was tough. A lot of people had it a lot worse than I did, but I lost that business.”
Krause worked at another salon for about eight months while he saved enough to reopen his shop. All the while, he kept an eye on the corner barbershop he’d spotted soon after moving to town.
Owner: Christopher Krause
Address: The Men’s Room Hair and Beard Parlor, 1052 Mount Vernon Rd. SE, Cedar Rapids; Five Seasons Hair and Beard Studio, 300 Collins Rd. NE
Phone: (319) 200-7777
“I always thought if that ever became available, that would be the No. 1 motivator to open a shop here,” he said.
When the previous owner closed up shop, Krause took over the space to open the Men’s Room. He opened his second shop, Five Seasons Hair and Beard Studio at 300 Collins Rd. NE, in May 2016.
The basic cut and shave-or-trim is now $25, and the pool table was lost to allow for more chairs — the Men’s Room has 16 total, 13 regularly staffed.
Those barbers work for themselves, paying a small weekly rental fee to cover business costs and otherwise keeping 100 percent of their earnings.
“It’s something kind of uncommon in the barber industry, but it’s worked for us,” Krause said. “I’ve gotten the most out of my staff by kind of removing the ceiling. If they want to do extra work they’re rewarded for that.”
Krause also expanded into what had been a clothing store next door to the Men’s Room’s first corner location.
“That’s something we were fortunate to be able to do,” he said. “Now we have the entire building.”
Last year’s coronavirus pandemic shutdown shuttered the shop for eight weeks.
“Everybody was scared,” Krause recalled. “There was so much uncertainty. A lot of our staff was going through some very serious depression. People didn’t know if we were going to be able to get back to doing what we do.
“We were confused as anyone else, probably more so, because we were in an industry labeled as ‘non-essential.’ It was a very frustrating time.”
Still, Krause lost only one staff member who moved away during the pandemic.
“We were able to stay together and hit the ground running as soon as they gave us the green light,” he said.
That meant masked barbers and clients, who initially waited in their cars until a chair opened.
“We had a lot of operational restrictions we learned how to navigate,” Krause said. “We had to restructure everything to accommodate people in a way that was safe and responsible.”
Krause noted a shift toward “normal” this spring, as the pace of vaccinations picked up.
“As soon as the weather started to warm up, it seemed to me a lot of the younger people especially were all over,” he said. “A lot of the clients seem as comfortable as they’ve ever been.”
Some clients still wear masks.
“We encourage people to trust their instincts, and we have clients who wear their mask throughout the haircut,” Krause said. “It’s not uncommon, so that’s part of what we’ve learned to do.”
In addition to navigating the pandemic, Krause spent the year lobbying state legislators for a change in Iowa’s licensing requirements. The school he’d attended had closed, leaving just one barber school left in the state, in Cedar Falls.
“With the tuition price, it’s just not a profession people are pursuing,” he said.
Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the bill establishing barber’s apprenticeship training earlier this month.
“That’s something we’re excited about, and it’s something we worked hard on,” he said.
“It will be just like how it was generations ago, when if a young guy wanted to pursue a career in barbering he’d just come into the barbershop and sweep the floor for a while, start cutting his friends and family.”
Krause expects to hire a couple of apprentices when the new law takes effect in January.
“We’ve been bombarded with inquiries,” he said.
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