Evan Boling and Boling's Barbershop
Your Wife's Favorite Barber Shop
By Jordan Venema
Photo: Amber Smith
This wasn’t the first time I’d gotten a haircut at Boling’s, but it was the first time I’d interviewed the barber while sitting in his chair. Scout’s honor though, whatever words I write about Evan Boling are not influenced by the straight razor he’s holding to my neck.
Talk about the straight razor gets Evan thinking: Maybe customers come to barber shops for the razor alone. “The allure of danger,” he calls it, “like old mobster movies, back alley fights, you know?” – this coming from one of the friendliest dudes you’ll ever meet.
These days, you’ll be hard pressed to find a seat at Boling’s, the barbershop is so popular. It’s not just the straight razor shave; there’s also the nostalgia of the old barbershop culture. The symbolism alone of that red, white and blue barber pole – it’s pure Americana.
Even Aaron Ashford, Boling’s second barber, says he’s commonly asked, “What’s that smell? You smell just like my grandfather.” That, you ask, is the smell of a man, the smell of aftershave.
Boling’s is packed, but sometimes their customers are mothers with young children or dudes barely out of their teens, none of whom likely have some a personal or historic allegiance to the barber culture. Yet the customers keep coming, waiting patiently while clippers buzz and barbers spin their yarns.
“We’re definitely your wife’s favorite barber shop,” says Evan. “We’ve had guys come in here who only came because their wives said, ‘This is where you’re getting your cut.’”
The reason for Boling’s popularity, with wives and mothers and men alike, will be obvious to anyone who takes a couple steps inside the shop. Only two because that’s how many it takes to find yourself smack dab in the middle of it all, the tiny two-chair curio shop and work-hour home to a couple of the largest personalities in town.
Boling’s celebrated its fifth anniversary on April Fool’s Day, and Evan couldn’t have planned a better date. Good humor is the fuel that drives this shop, and though it’s been speeding along these past five years, it wasn’t until January 2014 that Boling’s hit full throttle. That month, Ashford fastened into the passenger seat to man the second chair.
Before he became a barber, Ashford worked as a grocer and got his cut from Evan. “It was an awesome hangout,” Ashford says about Boling’s. “I’d spend my days off here and hang out when I got my hair cut. I would tell Evan, ‘Oh my gosh, you’ve got the best job in the whole world.’”
“Yeah, and Aaron suits the shop perfectly,” says Boling.
The two really do paint a perfect portrait: tattoos and beards and big smiles the both of them, with Boling sporting a Toronto Blue Jays cap and Ashford ready to stand in as John Goodman’s more dapper doppelganger.
“You know, you can’t fake a good haircut,” Boling begins, philosophizing hair. “If a haircut is jenky, it’s jenky. But,” he ponders further, “it’s not always a jenky haircut. Sometimes people just have jenky hair.”
Ashford offers exhibit A, the head of hair with a cowlick the size of a typhoon.
“There’s nothing you can do,” Ashford adds, shaking his head, as Boling echoes, “Yep, nothing you can do. He had a high-pressure system moving in from the east.”
“Nothing you can do,” Ashford says again, then Boling adds dramatically, “except hold on tight.”
Sharp cuts and straight shaves make up the menu at Boling’s, but the jokes are always on the house. But ask Boling what he hopes customers can expect coming into the shop, and he responds with two things: “A traditional men’s haircut and to be treated with respect. It’s sounds super hokey, but I treat people like I want to be treated.” That goes for everyone who walks through his door.
“I wanted all walks of life. I wanted grandpas all the way down to grandbabies,” he says. “I’ll talk old cars with any old man, and when you get some kooky kid in here you can sometimes laugh pretty hard.”
From vintage motorcycle signs to a taxidermy armadillo, Boling’s décor could capture the curiosity of both young and old. Closer to an eclectic natural museum than barbershop, Boling’s has gathered curios like a mini alligator head and mounted gazelles, old punk rock posters and collectible beer signs.
As for the shop’s theme, Boling had one simple method in mind: “If I’m going to be here 10 hours a day, it would be cool to have it like a spare bedroom in my house.”
Which really gets at the heart of Boling’s. The place feels more like the extension of his home and his personality than a place of business. Even Boling admits, “I don’t think of myself as a barber. I think of myself as Evan, who cuts hair during the week.”
Sure, both he and Ashford cut hair like pros, but ultimately Boling’s wouldn’t be Boling’s without these two barbers being themselves.
While it’s not uncommon for barbers and their customers to build close ties over a cut, the relationship usually ends with the final transaction, the exchange of currency and services. But if you look closely in his shop, asking Boling about the paintings decorating his walls, he’ll casually say they’re gifts painted by friends.
One such portrait depicts Ashford and Boling smiling largely, their arms around each other’s shoulder. That’s a special one, says Boling, “for somebody to go home and etch on a piece of tin and pull out a small brush to paint a picture of you,” he trails. “That’s amazing.”
What’s amazing is when the customers start appreciating their barber just as much, if not more than the cuts. The proof is in the paintings hanging on the wall and the people hanging about the shop just for good company.
And with good company comes friendly ribbing, just as customer Miguel Reyes deadpans when asked why he chooses Boling’s: “It’s either this or Supercuts.”
The shop collectively laughs, and Boling scrapes away the last of the lather from my neck, turning the chair to face the mirror. I nod approval then ask, “And how’s the back?”
“Super thick and juicy, as you like it.” Yeah, Boling knows.
Boling’s Barbershop• 112 S. Church St., Visalia • (559) 679-8816
Tuesday–Friday, 8:30am-6pm; Saturday, 8:30am-noon
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