For Patrice Alexander, cutting her hair is as easy and natural as breathing.
The man from Toronto who owns The hairdresser Forum near Yonge and Finch in Toronto’s North York neighborhood, he’s been a barber for nearly 30 years, picking up his first pair of scissors at age 12, he told Global News one afternoon, laughing as if he couldn’t believe it himself.
Something else that’s natural for Alexander, his clients say, is speaking and listening – two skills longtime clients Jonathon Jaundoo and Terry Tse say Alexander has mastered.
“I come here for a therapeutic haircut,” Jaundoo, 26, told Global News.
A loyal customer of Alexander for 10 years, Jaundoo says he looks forward to his biweekly haircut visits, yes, but even more so for the enriching experience and timely advice he receives from Alexander.
“It’s just a moment for me to relax, take care of myself, and, you know, talk to a friend,” Jaundoo said. “I felt like the person who was cutting me cared more about me, beyond the actual service.”
Jaundoo is not alone in his feelings.
“You walk in and you know right away that this guy treats you like a friend,” Tse, 33, told Global News, referring to Alexander. “He does not treat you like a client, he greets you, asks how you are…. It’s Patrice fostering an environment where there are no outsiders. “
Tse, who has been coming to The Forum for eight years, is just one of a vast and diverse customer base that Alexander has created, from star athletes, such as NHL players Nazem Kadri and Luke Gazdic, to loyal regulars who se they refuse to go anywhere. the rest.
Inside his store, on any given day, Alexander can often be found ‘cutting it off’ with his customers, whether it’s discussing the latest Raptors game or giving a word of encouragement here and there.
And while he’s not a “real” therapist, for many of his clients, he feels that way, they say. Alexander has a knack for making them look and feel good, like they are important.
Canadian professional hockey defender Jordan Subban told Global News during an interview with Zoom one afternoon.
“Patrice makes me look better,” Subban joked when asked why he wasn’t going to another hairdresser. For Subban, his hockey star older brother PK, and his entire family, it’s more than Alexander’s sharp cutting skills that have kept them coming back for the past 10 years.
“I go early so I can sit down and talk (with Alexander) and have some real conversations,” Subban said.
“It’s just an environment that he believes is inclusive so that everyone is a part of that conversation in some way and doesn’t feel silly, you know? It’s great to ask questions and it’s about growth. “
Some of Alexander’s clients say inclusion can be rare in these types of spaces – so rare that some get it wrong when they see Alexander’s Black-owned barbershop in the middle of Toronto’s Koreatown North.
Tse, who is Chinese, says he was one of those who was surprised by how unusual Alexander’s barbershop was.
“Right off the bat, as soon as you walk in, you see hockey sticks, right? That is not usual, ”said Tse. “It’s (also) in an area where you don’t normally see a barbershop, so right off the bat, it’s different.”
Alexander himself was also receiving calls from interested clients, who weren’t sure what “type” of barbershop he ran.
‘They’re like,’ Hi, how are you? Is this the forum? Do you guys cut black hair? And they’re a little nervous to say it, ”Alexander said, laughing.
“Customers (would start) coming in … calling and making an appointment, stopping by (and saying), ‘Oh wow, this guy knows how to cut straight hair!’ And that’s always been the stereotype, you know, that black barbers aren’t really familiar with straight hair. “
But those are the stereotypes, preconceived notions and ‘boxes’ that Alexander seeks to challenge at The Forum Barber Parlor, a place he claims lives up to its name where a wide range of topics can be discussed, in a respectful way.
Tse says he appreciates the safe environment and feels comfortable enough to discuss real estate and businesses with heavier topics, such as race relations and police brutality, with Alexander.
“If I have a question, I feel comfortable going to Patrice because he is not someone who is offended by my questions, is he? You can have a candid conversation with me to help me learn, ”Tse said.
Tse says it’s not just the conversations with Alexander, but also with other customers from different backgrounds entering the store that further enhance the haircut experience.
“Entering here, you realize how much we have in common, right? We really like the same things, but (we may) not know it because we haven’t had a chance to speak, ”Tse told Global News. “So having the opportunity to have a conversation with someone you can’t have a conversation with on the street changes your perspective. Open your mind to something a little more than what you would get if you weren’t here.
“I get out of here, I feel like a better person because I can be more empathetic.”
For Alexander, that’s the added value: building bridges across differences in hopes of fostering understanding. And he says it starts with listening.
“Business is about relationships, that’s how you grow,” Alexander said. “I tell a lot of my clients all the time that I appreciate them probably more than they appreciate me, because every person who sits in my chair, I am learning from them.”
And they are learning from him. Alexander is not just a barber, but a Television personality and entrepreneur, most recently launched a new line of plant-based hair products that he created called The Alexander & Co.
“Saying he’s a mentor is, yeah, I can talk to him,” Tzu said of Alexander. “But I’m also seeing what he’s doing and that pushes me to do more…. He’s not just talking about it, he’s showing you. It is very tangible. And I think it’s something that resonates not just with me, but with young black people as well, with people who walk into the store and see what you’re doing and know that you don’t have to be an athlete or a musician or anything to be successful. . . You can hone your craft, hone it, and then expand it. “
For Jaundoo, 10 years of conversations with Alexander, who has advised him on “everything from relationships to personal issues to business matters,” has made Alexander not only a trusted confidant, but also an accessible representation of who he is. possible.
“(Alexander) remains at a high level and that’s what I want for myself.”
Subban says that it is Alexander who creates a space that allows young people to be vulnerable, to feel seen, that is what makes the difference for him.
“It opens your eyes to show you that there are people who care about what you say and what you are going through. And you know, Patrice always has forever it had that vibe in the store. “
—With files from Gord Edick
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.