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The fine art of a good haircut

03/14/2016 09:00AM ● Published by J. Chambless

Philip Cornetta (seated) opened Gents in December. Behind him are stylists Ty, Anthony, Dennis and Jesus.

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

On a sunny, warm afternoon last week, the music was pumping and the conversations were lively between the barbers and customers at Gents Barber Shop in West Grove.

Sitting at the back of the sleek, black-and-chrome space, owner Philip Cornetta said, “I wanted this place to be old school meets the new, modern look. There aren't any other barber shops in West Grove like this. This is the kind of place that's been needed here.”

The tidy, bright space with a masculine décor opened in mid-December in a small, struggling shopping center on the eastern edge of the borough. Walk into Gents, though, and you think you could be in some ultra-hip Manhattan salon.

Cornetta has registered the Gents name in Pennsylvania, and has visions of someday franchising the operation. But first things first.

He started out to be a chef. “I went to school at the Culinary Institute outside New York City in about 2011,” he said. “Before that, I had come to Avon Grove High School to study in their culinary program, which they didn't have where I grew up in Pittsburgh. And I was part of the culinary program at TCHS. I was there for their pilot program.”

Having lived in West Grove for the past seven years, Cornetta has been busy. “I was running the Cafe at Longwood Gardens,” he said. “I was writing all the menus, pretty much everything. I had a lot of fun there. It was really busy. I actually started Gents while I was still there. But you can't work 80-90 hours a week when you're trying to open a business.”

The hours demanded of chefs – every day, odd hours, no days off – were well known to Cornetta, and when he saw a chance to step back a bit, he took it. He knew about the vacant space that had formerly been a tax office. It was the perfect size for what he had in mind – a barber shop where he could manage, but not be trapped by the endless hours of work.

“I went back to school for business,” he said. “This started out as an investment for me, and I kind of came to love it. Honestly, I wanted to start a restaurant, but coming from a business background, I thought, 'What's something I can do a lot cheaper and it's not going to be as high-maintenance as a restaurant?' This freed my time up to do what I want to do. I want to be known for excellence, for cleanliness. We want people to walk in and say, 'Wow. This is a nice shop.'”

But Cornetta has also learned how to cut hair since December, and now he can take clients alongside the four men he has working at Gents. There's a vacant sixth station that will be filled eventually, he said. He credits his manager, Ty, with making the launch of Gents as easy as it's been.

“We are so diverse. We cater to everybody,” he said. “I have every kind of barber here. Anyone who walks in that door should be able to get an amazing haircut. We do the old-school stuff, too, like hot towels and facials, but in a new, modern environment.

“A lot of men don't want to go to a salon,” he said. “Here we offer TVs, we serve doughnuts, bottled water. In the summertime I'll make lemonade, things like that. It's $10 for kids, seniors and the military at all times. And on weekdays we'll do $10 walk-ins.

“When we opened in December, it was during a stretch of really warm days, so we had a barbecue,” Cornetta said. “That's something I want to do more. We'll have another one this spring. I want to do a community fair here, where people can come and promote their businesses. I'm starting to link up with businesses to see what they want to do. But I love living in West Grove. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else. Seven years ago, this place was really quiet, but it's starting to come up now.”

At 23, Cornetta has achieved more than most people in their 50s, and he has a keen sense of where he wants to go with Gents. “It's been very fun putting this together,” he said. “I designed the décor. One of my favorite things is to build and design. That's where my cooking comes from. I enjoy starting with nothing and coming up with this great final product. That's what I did here – I started with a bare space and made this great barber shop. I use Facebook to get the work out. It's amazing the power of Facebook when it comes to getting noticed. We have a lot of word of mouth going around.

“I like to cater to people,” he said. “They come in, feel comfortable, get a good cut and walk out happy. That's what it's all about.”

Gents Barber Shop is at 302 E. Baltimore Pike in West Grove. Call 610-345-5631 or find Gents on Facebook.

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email jchambless@chestercounty.com.


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