West End barber school students a cut above

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Business is always growing when it comes to barbering.

It's the kind of profession that can provide work even in a depression, says Ken Jaram, who runs the Barber School of Pittsburgh on Steuben Street in the West End.

"People want to look good, no matter the economic conditions, and a good haircut helps them do that.

It's a lot less expensive to spend, say, $10 for a haircut than to spend $100 for a pair of shoes or $500 for a suit," he said.

And a customer can stop in during business hours at the barber school and walk out with a new haircut for $4.

Students do the cutting, but Mr. Jaram said an instructor is available to check on the student barber to make sure the cut meets the school's standards.

Twenty students are enrolled in the nine-month course offered at the barber school, Mr. Jaram said. Students put in 1,250 hours of study and training in all phases of barbering.

"We emphasize short- and medium-length cuts, using clippers and a straight razor," he said.

"Students range in age from 18 to 58 years old, but their average age is late 20s to early 30s."

The job prospects for those students who make the cut look promising right now.

"It's what I call a barber's market with so many older barbers retiring. Since 2010, we have had just about 100 percent placement," Mr. Jaram said.

The school was started in 2003 by Harold "Mickey" Medved in the West End, and after a period of time at the Northway Mall in Ross, the school moved back to the West End in 2009.

After Mr. Medved, who is 87, decided to retire, Mr. Jaram xtook over sole management of the school in 2009.

"I am grateful and thankful to Mickey. He helped me get started in the barber business and has been a mentor to me and many others," Mr. Jaram said. "He always tells the young guys, 'Choose to do the right thing.' "

Although retired from the barber school, Mr. Medved still keeps close tabs on the school. The school emphasizes traditional barbering skills, and Mr. Medved and Mr. Jaram want to keep it that way.

Fashions come and go in barbering, but they believe the classic cut makes a man look well-groomed, no matter the style of the day.

Students who go into barbering also, in many cases, end up owning their own shops, and Mr. Jaram said he is available to help former students with advice on how to start their own barber shop.

He owns barber shops in Oakdale, Moon, Crafton and Rochester, and Mr. Medved owns shops in Sewickley and throughout Beaver County, so they have plenty of experience to draw on for helping students who want to start their own business.

Students come to the school for multiple reasons, Mr. Jaram said.

"Some want something that is stressor free, or want to learn a skill that they can do for a while, then take a year or two off and come back to."

Currently, the school has several military veterans enrolled. The veterans generally find barbering a less stressful experience than military service, he said.

Mr. Medved said he started barber school himself after military service in the 1940s and found a profession that lasted a lifetime.

The school is accredited to accept the GI Bill to help cover tuition, and Mr. Jaram said it is working on becoming eligible to accept state and federal tuition assistance for students.

Most of the school's students are male, he said, but it also has some women who want to learn barbering.

"I am passionate about barbering," he said.

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Bob Podurgiel, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com


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