Hipster and old school barber shops—we’ve seen it all around Singapore. While street barbers operating under awnings in back alleys were once a common sight, they’re hardly seen around today. We heard about one of these remaining barbers in Aliwal Street and decided to drop by for a chat with the reserved but passionate Mr Tan Boon Kee at his makeshift barber shop, which comes complete with a vintage barber chair and old school grooming tools. Here, he tells us more about why younger generation don’t drop by often enough and what he has planned for the future.
I started barbering in 1962, under the guidance of my “master”. He’d teach a student every year and I learnt a lot from him.
I opened a HDB barber shop at Alexandra in 1978 but when the estate underwent some changes, I closed it down.
I like the freedom that comes with operating as a street barber as opposed to owning a brick-and-mortar shop. I shifted around a lot before finally settling down here in Aliwal Street, and I’ve been working here since, for more than 20 years now.
Mr Tan’s vintage barber chair
This chair has followed me for the past 20 years. Someone left it behind and I took it. I still prefer using old school barber tools like the straight razor and manual clipper instead of electric shavers.
I’ve made lasting friendships with customers and most of my customers today are regulars who’ve been around for a while. The younger people have heard of my shop, but they’re usually reluctant to drop by because there’s no air-conditioning.
Mr Tan’s barbering tools
I really enjoy what I’m doing because it’s my passion and I’ll continue operating this shop for the years to come. I’d like to pass it on to someone next time, but my two sons don’t have an interest in barbering.
If someone wants to learn and take over my shop in the future, I’ll be more than happy to teach and guide them.
If you’re looking for a refreshing change from the corporate slickness of modern barber shops (or if you want to take up on Mr Tan’s offer), head down to Aliwal Street for a quick fuss-free trim and shave. You won’t miss him if you look hard enough (or ask the people around the area). He opens for business from 8am-5:30pm every day, except Sundays and Wednesdays