Seven years ago, Thomas Curley moved his barbershop downtown after buying longtime Tucson barber Johnny Gibson's shop. During his stint downtown, Curley has garnered a positive outlook on downtown revitalization—and on how to survive as a small business owner during an economic downturn. Curley's shop is at 53 N. Sixth Ave.; call 622-8410 for more information.
Where was your business located before you moved downtown?
I was on the eastside at Speedway (Boulevard) and Kolb (Road). Lowe's came in and purchased the property and developed it, so I had to look someplace else. I found out that Johnny was selling, and I bought his place.
Was it a culture shock going from the eastside to downtown?
No. I've been coming downtown for 30 years.
I mean doing business downtown. You'd never done business downtown before, right?
Yes. (Smiling.) It's quite different. I was able to keep a few of my customers. Most of my clients now work downtown for the city, the county and the state. I also inherited several generations of families who still come to this spot.
Is it easy to do business downtown?
The parking situation makes it a challenge. And when the freeway closures began, and when the Fourth Avenue underpass was blocked off, that's when we noticed a change. But this business has changed, too. In the barrios and neighborhoods, there are other barbershops opening up, and people just don't come downtown for a haircut.
What do you see as the biggest issue since you've been downtown?
Parking. We need more meters along this street. But ParkWise did give us a 45-minute space for us to use right in front. Parking is always a struggle, yet people find ways to get here. We're also in an economic depression, so that doesn't help business. And styles are changing right now. Guys are growing their hair longer.
You said your wife is retiring soon. What about you?
I had a stroke two years ago, and I recovered very well. I've been doing this for 30 years. What else would I do? It's a slow time right now. We'll go from having one good day to one bad day. We used to have five good days.
Your barbershop is part of the ArtFare building. Do you like your landlords and what they're doing for downtown?
They are making a great effort to try something good for downtown. I give them a lot of credit. ... This space has always been a barbershop for 68 years. Every time I see (ArtFare's) drawings of the block, we're still there and still part of their plans.
Are you worried that the economy will force you to close earlier than you intend?
I never worry about that. I think we've turned into a payday barbershop. Fridays and Saturdays are our busy days. When the winter visitors leave, summers are always slow. I know business will change once the freeway opens again and once the Fourth Avenue underpass opens, too. We lost 20 percent of our business when the freeway closed.
What are your thoughts on downtown revitalization?
They need to get a direction and stay on task.
Is your family from Tucson?
My dad met my mom when he was in the Air Force 49 years ago, and we were away for about six years living on different U.S. bases. I served in the Marine Corps. When I came home, I was at Pima (Community) College, barber school and bartending. When I graduated from Pima, I started at the UA, but then decided to stay in barbering. In the late '90s, I got my insurance broker's license and thought I was going to leave the business. In 2001, I was with AIG, but I knew we were headed for an economic depression. I got out and went back to barbering.
Did barbering seem steadier in the long run?
In this business, if you give someone a bad haircut, they'll tell you to do a better job next time. It's not like that in the insurance business. ... Most of my customers are my friends. My wife will say to me, "You don't have any friends." Well, my friends are my customers.
Are you as hopeful about downtown as you are about the economy?
Yes. It'll happen. It's going to take a big collaborative effort to make it happen and make all the pieces come together. Some people still say (Tucson Electric Park) should have been built downtown. But that's a ghost that's better left in the past. Most of the time, I'm just grateful that I have customers that come to me, even if they have to park on another street.