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'World's Busiest Airport' gets a hairstyle makeover

Herbert Williams, 40, opened “Vintage, The Barber Shop” in downtown Atlanta a decade ago. He plans to keep the location open if selected by Hartsfield-Jackson.  

By this time next year, this shell of a space will house Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International
Airport’s first barbershop. The merchant is responsible for dressing up the space.

Believe it or not, there’s no place to get a haircut in the world’s busiest airport. 

But that’s about to change. 

“What we’re looking at right now doesn’t look like much,” says Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport General Manager Lewis Miller as he stands in the airport’s atrium.  “But you see where this little wall is?” 

Miller points to a tiny patch of drywall.  Just by looking, you’d never know a business is about to go in here.

“There will be a sign that will go up there that will tell people it’s a barber shop.  There will be the red and white barber poles,” he continues as he shows off a messy shell of a space.

Wires hang where a suspended ceiling used to be.  A non-working soda cooler is covered in dust.

But Miller sees this space as a potential gold mine.

I think it’s very lucrative—just the number of people [who] are coming through every single day,” Miller says.    

For this space, airport officials want something distinctive, a flavor that says Atlanta.

Originally, the airport issued a formal “Request for Proposals.” Not a single barber applied. 

Airport managers regrouped, decided to go door-to-door. That got more interest.

“Supply and demand is one of the things we’re looking at.  And if there’s a demand for it, we’re ready to supply it,” laughs 40-year-old Herbert Williams, owner of Vintage, The Barber Shop in Downtown Atlanta.

The chairs in his shop are 1948 Koken Presidents.  A vending machine dispenses Coca-Cola in glass bottles. And Williams is the first to tell you making it in this business means understanding one thing:

“A barbershop is a different type of business,” he says. “Barbershops are made of people.” 

Williams wouldn’t say much about what he’s putting into his barbershop proposal.  But it works the same as just about every business at every major U.S. airport. 

There’s rent--  significantly more than what he’s paying here.  Williams must “bid” to the airport an annual amount—how much, no matter what, he’ll pay for the privilege of operating there. The minimum at Hartsfield-Jackson is $25,000 a year for this project. 

And for every cut he does, the airport gets a cut.

“Does it frighten me? No,” says Williams. “Because the airport has been very successful when it comes to businesses being in the airport.” 

And he’s right, says Kenneth Buchanan, the Executive Vice President of Revenue Management at Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport.  

“There’s the potential to make a significant amount of money in an airport environment versus on a street location.” 

Buchanan says DFW put in its first barbershop more than twenty years ago.

“The time-pressed, stressed traveler gravitated to those types of amenities,” he says, noting there are now eight hair shops at DFW. 

Buchanan says all are doing well, enjoying their share of the airport’s $300-million annual concessions revenue.

With numbers like that, Vintage owner Herbert Williams knows his proposal back in Atlanta has to, in his words, “make sense.”

Williams figures if his does, he’ll make three times the profit he brings in at his downtown location.

May the best man win,” he laughs.

Proposals are due in next week, with “World’s Busiest Barbershop” set to open in about a year. 

About the author

Jim Burress is a reporter for WABE in Atlanta.

By this time next year, this shell of a space will house Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International
Airport’s first barbershop. The merchant is responsible for dressing up the space.

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