It’s a frostbitten Wednesday afternoon on Gottingen Street, and barber Mohammad Nabelsi has a hair trimmer trained on the back of his latest client’s neck. From inside his mobile barbershop—a Ford Transit van converted into a full-service haircutting setup—the Damascus-raised Nabelsi glances at the mirror and adjusts his clippers’ settings. Dressed in a white button-down, blue jeans and Nike trainers, he pulls a #3 extension and snaps it into place. The clipper buzzes. It’s been a busy afternoon: From noon until 3pm, he’s offering free haircuts to the clients at Shelter Nova Scotia. A steady queue of clients has formed at the corner of Gottingen and Cunard Streets, each awaiting a turn in the barber’s chair. It’s the result of a partnership that started, he tells The Coast, for one simple reason: There was a need.
It’s been two weeks since Nabelsi opened his mobile barber shop—Halifax’s first—out of the back of his converted van, and business is good. For $45, you can book a haircut on his website—or get a cut and a shave for $65, or a head massage for $20.
“Halifax has been good to me,” he tells The Coast. “Thank you, Nova Scotia. Thank you, Canada.”
Since arriving as a refugee from Syria in 2019, Nabelsi has plied his trade across the city—but as the COVID-19 pandemic turned Halifax inward, he saw a need for a service that could meet people at their doorstep. And while he charges for most cuts, he also wanted to ensure cost wouldn’t be a barrier to those who could use it most. And so, as he kitted out his van to be fully mobile and wheelchair-accessible, he also sought out Julie Slen, hub manager at Shelter Nova Scotia. The two struck a deal that Nabelsi would offer free haircuts once a week to anyone at the shelter who needed one, as long as the demand was there.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Slen tells The Coast. “Access to something that, you know, you and I may take for granted, such as a haircut is something that just gives people a sense of well being and a sense of pride and the ability to feel cared for.”
A tour inside Nabelsi’s barbershop-on-wheels offers a glimpse of holiday cheer. Silver tinsel adorns the paneled walls. LED glow strips change colours from orange to green to blue. A plasma TV faces the barber’s chair.
Nabelsi tells The Coast through a translator that it took two years for his business plan to come together. According to Huddle, the whole investment cost $130,000.
The barbershop celebrated its grand opening on Halifax’s waterfront on Nov. 27. Nabelsi has visions of serving clients across the HRM, from Bedford to Tantallon. He also plans to keep offering free haircuts to those in need.
That’s welcome news to Slen.
“As long as we see a need, we’ll create space for that to happen.”