If the harshness of the lightning at your local supermarket gives you a headache; if you can’t stand the sound of Muzak or adult contemporary music being pumped through overhead speakers as you shop for shoes at the mall; if the blandness of everyday life just gets you down and you wish there were a little more style, a little more personality, and just a little more human interaction in life, you may be in luck. Across the U.S. and around the globe, many young business people are answering such demands by breathing new life into old trades, turning them into viable careers, and reviving interest in lost arts.
If you’ve ever seen an interesting, non-traditional cut of meat on your favorite cooking show you have likely been faced with the dilemma of where to track it down so you could try a new recipe. It often seems unlikely that the local supermarket would be unable to produce a cut of meat different from what is on offer every day in their refrigerated cases. Often times you would be right.
Or perhaps, inspired by shows like AMC’s “Mad Men,” you would like to revive an old fashion and add a little flare or personality to your personal style. You would likely be faced with the same dilemma. Where could you get one of those amazing Madison Avenue haircuts? Or where could one buy a hat if one wanted to add a little vintage pizzazz to the wardrobe?
In many large and medium-sized cities, those dilemmas are disappearing. Obtaining a hard-to-find cut of meat, a perfectly done men’s haircut with a shave, or even buying a hand-made hat are no longer impossible things. No, in many places, the resurgence of the artisan has made riding these hard to obtain goods and services quite easy.
Whether it is the “what’s old is new” cycle coming back in a big way or whether it is a movement by consumers to reject impersonal service as well as bland, impersonal products is hard to say. But now, more so, than in a very long time, consumers are embracing old modes of acquiring everyday and not-so-everyday items.
First, consider the butcher. Many likely thought that the days of the corner meat market were long gone. Displaced by huge supermarket chains and oftentimes unable to compete with the low prices, many butchers had shuttered their doors over the last decades. But as meat prices continued to rise in U.S. and around the world, something seemingly counterintuitive began to happen.
As meat, particularly beef, began to be served less as it rose in price, the consumer became more demanding. On the occasions that it was served the consumer wanted a very nice cut that was expertly produced and looked picture-perfect. Paying a premium was not a problem for the customer who wanted a nice steak produced by someone willing to take the time and make sure he or she was happy.
Re-enter the neighborhood butcher, who was willing to step in and fill the gap left by the supermarkets. Premium cuts and premium service have become the rage in the meat business and many are looking to smaller markets to find those things. Cities provide populations dense enough for a steady stream of customers for these new craftsmen; and rural butchers can keep their business afloat by processing meat for hunters and farmers too.
Spurred on by a public re-invigorated through cooking shows and a new emphasis on “nose-to-tail” eating—that is eating all parts of the animal, organs included—the local butcher has made a comeback.
But it’s not all blood and guts for the artisanal comeback. No, personal style is also driving a demand for personal service. Though they had not disappeared as far into the past as the butcher, local barbershops are also making a comeback.
For many, paying $60 for a haircut at a salon seems like a huge waste of money. But dropping $40 for the same haircut and then plunking down another $25 for an old fashioned straight-razor, wet-shave could be just the ticket when it comes to giving your personal style an edge. While the shave and the haircut, nowadays, are going to cost you a lot more than two bits, the luxury of the wet-shave was once thought to be a thing of the past. It’s come back, and the comeback of the barbershops that offer them is certainly remarkable.
It may seem unthinkable to some men to cover up a $40 haircut with a hat but hats are making a comeback too. Again, “Mad Men” may be driving fashion here too, as all evidence points to the rebirth of the men’s hat as well. And thanks to Kate Middleton on the other side of the pond, hats are becoming a fashion accessory that isn’t just for grandmas anymore.
Now, one is not likely to find a corner haberdasher in a small town, but the shops with the funny sounding name are cropping in many cities, big and small across, the country. One such shop is “The Hatbox: A Modern Haberdashery” in Austin, Texas. The Hatbox’s website offers photos of customers, the history of the rise and fall of the hat, and a blog promoting hat styles and hat trends.
Given that hats had nearly disappeared from wardrobes in the last half century, personal assistance is also key in these new shops. Customers will need that human interaction to help with selection and care instructions. A hat, after all, is not the type of thing you buy in a strip mall.
One other fashion item that never went away but is gaining new attention is the shoe. It has been, perhaps, a century since every town had a shoemaker or a cobbler. But the art of shoemaking is mounting a comeback. Customers are proving that they are willing to spend over $400 for a pair of shoes that are custom-built. Shops like Imperial Boots in Montreal, Canada offer handmade shoes and, once again proving that human interaction is key, they will also custom make footwear for customers.
One young businessman who apprenticed there, Andrew Finn, decided to open his own shop and now makes custom boots for customers in Saskatoon, also in Canada. Proving that well-built custom footwear is catching on and spreading as consumers continue to turn up their nose at more mass-produced, less inspiring offerings.
Another product that never, ever disappeared is the cocktail. A trend in the bar business these days though is a focus on old time cocktails produced with a dedication to old-time care. Again human interaction and personality is key in this realm. Trendy bars are cropping up all over the U.S. even in small cities like St. Augustine, Florida where the Ice Plant recently opened. The Ice Plant offers drinks mixed with craft-made vodka, and proving that a dedication to craft extends beyond the booze, at least three different types of craftily produced ice. Imbibers can have their drinks cooled with shaved ice, “rocks”, “long rocks,” or spheres.
The rise of such bars prove that craft and personality hold more sway over certain sectors of the consuming public than the tired old offerings of a couple of decades ago. Make no mistake about it: bartending is a job that requires skill and a focus and dedication to the profession. Knowledge, personal attention, and high standards are the new norm. Gone are the days, for some, of the rum and Coke or any iteration of electric-colored cocktails with a laundry list of ingredients. The bartender is also another old-time job that is back in a meaningful and interesting way.
The craftsman is a catch-all category, a multi-faceted occupation where the new business person can carve out an interesting niche and focus on superb customer service and high quality products. If mass produced goods and non-existent customer service gets you down, give the new artisan a look.