Barber Shop brings community feel to East Liberty



It can be pretty hard to find a seat in Bat’s Barber Shop. Owner and barber Kevin Andrews, a.k.a. Bat, is singing along to a Rihanna song blasting out of the speakers. Customers see friends outside and wave them in to say hello. Clearly, Bats Barber Shop is a community environment, and Bat is its spokesman.

Not one person walks into the shop that Bat doesn’t recognize. He greets everyone who walks in by name and with a smile, no matter who is sitting in the barber chair in front of him. It’s something Bat prides in himself and in his staff.

“Being a people person, you knock all the edges off at the door,” Bat says. “You come in, you don’t smile, we’ll miss with you. We’ll tell them ‘you have to smile when you come in here,’ things like that. We break the ice for them. Some people get scared coming in, especially single moms, they get kind of nervous in a shop full of men, but we break the ice with them early so when they come in the door, they feel comfortable. It’s just communicating with them.”

The shop has been open for 11-plus years in East Liberty with a consistent customer base and friendly barbers ready to cut hair, arch eyebrows or trim facial hair with all services under $20. However, it’s not the services at the shop that draw people in, it’s the warm sense of community conjured by Bat and his staff.

Inside everything is black and gold, and Bat will claim his blood matches the Pittsburgh-centric theme to anyone who will listen. Some members of the staff don Steelers shirts, Pirates shirts or Penguins shirts, including Bat, who is wearing a customized Steelers shirt with “BATS” embroidered on the front and on the back. He sees a customer wearing a signed shirt and begins to poke and prod her, saying how much he needs it. The customer doesn’t back down and shrugs, saying it’s hers. It’s this type of exchange that is typical to the shop; an environment that is conducive to relaxing and talking.

The barbers all have the same friendly demeanor as their boss. There is not a customer who isn’t greeted. There’s not a goodbye that isn’t exchanged. Handshakes and hugs are a common thing here at Bats Barber Shop, and it’s because of how Bat picks his staff and expects them to act.

K3AW0145“I’m good with evaluating talent and character,” Bat explains. “You have to be of high character to work for me, that’s what I like. If you say you’re going to do something, I need you to do it. If you say you’re going to be somewhere at a certain, I need you to be there … I wouldn’t tell them to do something I wouldn’t do.”

Two barbers, Horace Topeck Jr. and Tye Pritchare are taking advantage of a rare lull in customers and are sitting down, playing a game of chess in the back of the shop and bantering over what they enjoy about working at Bats Barber Shop and the shop’s contribution to the East Liberty community.

“[Bats Barber Shop] brings a sense of respect where the youth is concerned,” Pritchare explains. “The total experience is a respectful experience. The environment is not rowdy or ratchet, it’s respectful for the elders and the youth, which I think is important … That’s what makes it so special. It gives everybody opportunity.”

While contemplating his next move in the chess game, Topeck quickly looks up and adds, “There’s a lot of diversity. It’s networking, all different types of people. There’s doctors, lawyers. Then you have the regular average person, children. It’s a vey diverse environment too.”

K3AW0135As Topeck and Pritchare are relaxing in the back, playing chess, Bat is still at work on six-year customer James Goings in the chair in front of him. The 83-year-old walked into the shop with his cane and waited patiently to sit in front of Bat. His gray hair is still on his head and needs to be cut roughly once a month. He and Bat quickly begin a conversation as soon as Goings sits down.

“[Bat] cuts my hair good,” Goings says with a quick smile while Bat takes the razor to Goings’s head. “He’s the owner and he takes care of everything. If children come in, he tells them to sit down. ‘Don’t mess with the seat’ or ‘don’t put your shoes in the seat’. There’s no language. No bad language is being taught. He’s good. I like that.”

Outside the shop, Rachel Johnson is lounging in a chair, reading a book during her break. There’s no music blasting outside, making it more peaceful. To her, Bats Barber Shop is related back to the community, but in a bigger way to shape the children of East Liberty.

“I believe it’s everything that you would want a black barber shop to be,” Johnson says, looking back at the shop as she speaks. “It has a core group of men that try to influence the young men in the environment. They have chess and debates and they encourage people to carry themselves a certain way. [These children] don’t have to be a product of their environment, they don’t have to be oppressed, they can come here and be men amongst men.”