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The Genuine Article: New barbershop in old barbershop location

“It just has character, some personality . . .You’re not going to find this anywhere else"

Matthew Forbes is a genuine guy with a big, genuine smile that stretches from ear to ear.

Forbes likes that word — genuine. It’s what he wants his life and work to be.

Forbes, 50, wasn’t even born when Trank Monico opened a barbershop in downtown Guelph — a shop that Monico finally retired a few months ago, after 60 years of barbering.

Now, Forbes, a former Canada Post employee, has stepped into Monico’s genuine, old school shop with his own set of hairstyling tools, and a similar disposition to Monico — laidback, happy, down-to-earth . . . genuine. Matthew’s Barbershop opened earlier this month.

“I’m inspired by anything that comes across as genuine,” said Forbes, a trained hairstylist, brand new to the trade, as he sat in the 24 Macdonell Street space that Monico occupied for all those years. For now, his hours are limited to three days week — Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

The pair of orange vinyl and chrome barber chairs, and the decidedly 1950s style mirrored counter are the very same ones that were the defining furnishings in Monico’s shop.

Forbes will let the walls take on a life of their own, although one section of them will hold the vintage hats he plans to sell as a sideline.

“This place seemed pretty genuine,” said Forbes, who describes his hairstyling touch as a very light, gentle one — not heavy-handed, not invasive.

“I guess it’s true that I’ve always had a fascination with hair and detail, but what really got me to become a barber was working at The Common,” he said, speaking of a downtown coffee shop and and gathering spot.  

The Common, just kitty-corner from Forbes’s new shop, is another down-to-earth business — no frills, open space, one espresso machine, lots of noisy kids, low on forced hip.

Forbes was a barista there after leaving Canada Post, looking for something more genuine. The Common owner Kia Iverson gave him a life-changing job.

“Working at the café was my biggest break, ever,” said Forbes, who was once a television show host in Montreal with the W Network. “This is the best move I ever made, because it’s genuine, it’s true to me and who I am. Working at the café I realized that I really liked people. I really liked talking to them and finding out what their stories are.”

When Monico retired, Forbes saw the “perfect fit” for his nature. He cashed in his Canada Post pension and put the money into hairstyling training and his own hairstyling shop. He’s only been open for two weeks, with limited hours on Thursday nights, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.,  Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“I had my first old Trank customer in,” he said. “He said he’d been waiting for the place to reopen. I gave him a haircut. I was a little nervous.”

Forbes said he makes up for his lack of experience as a barber with his attention to detail. He cuts both men’s and women’s hair. He did his co-op placement and part of his apprenticeship at Great Clips on Speedvale Avenue.

Forbes has nothing against hairstyling chains. But the old style shop is just more suited to his nature.

“It just has character, some personality,” he said. “You’re not going to find this anywhere else. It’s important to me that I feel comfortable.”

Something is genuine if it’s not forced, he said, elaborating on that most important of words.

“If it sort of comes organically,” he said. “I think you can stray into some dangerous territory by trying to be genuine.”

Forbes said he is fascinated to see what will become of his new shop once others put their mark on it.

“I’m interested to see, as time goes by, what my clients will do to this place,” he said. “I’m open to people coming here and saying, ‘Hey, I brought you a picture.’ I’m open to people having an influence here, watching it and seeing how it evolves.”



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Rob O'Flanagan

About the Author: Rob O'Flanagan

Rob O’Flanagan has been a newspaper reporter, photojournalist and columnist for over twenty years. He has won numerous Ontario Newspaper Awards and a National Newspaper Award.
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