By Chris Illich
Robert Condron is known for being the most laid back hairdresser in Niagara – not ‘laid back’ in a sit around all day ‘laid back’, but ‘laid back’ as a nice, cool, calming presence in the room – oh, and he’s really good at his job too.
Anybody who walks into Bang On Hair Salon on St. Paul St. in St. Catharines knows that they’re not going into a typical hair salon. It’s not a pamper-yourself salon with a spa in the basement for the ladies, or a male oriented barbershop. You won’t find glamour shots on the wall, or spinning ribbons outside, but instead, you find yourself drawn into the tight, clean, minimal and inviting space.
Instead of hair magazines (except the ones he accepts for free) on the table, he has music magazines, and books on the Clash and Joy Division. Instead of a wall of shampoos and conditioners adorning the walls, he features works from local artists.
Condron was that kid who had scissors in his hands all the time. Remember them?
“I was always cutting stuff up, even some family heirlooms. I cut all my brother’s hair and in high-school I cut all my friends’ hair. When we were leaving high school and all my friends were going to University, I thought I’d be kind of stupid to not go” he said.
He attended Concordia University in Montreal and studied Philosophy for a single semester. “It felt like five minues. I like reading books, but I realized I didn’t like sitting in the classroom listening to lectures everyday for hours on end. So I went to hair school at Bruno’s School of Hair Design in Toronto which is what I always wanted to do before, but was talked out of it,” he said. “Then did an apprenticeship with Lisa Fina – who now owns two salons in Toronto called Grateful Head.”
“I don’t know where that came from, I guess I like creative stuff, like art and music.”
As Condron reminisced about the first year of being in operation, he recalled that he decided to move to Welland from Toronto because St. Catharines had begun work on revitalizing downtown, and his wife is originally from the region. Oh, and he really wanted a garden.
In Toronto, Condron managed Shampoo in Kensington Market, but he decided that he wanted to open his own space. Toronto was too expensive so they decided to move to Niagara, and Condron opened the doors to Bang On in August of 2010.
“I remember doing this one show, I guess it during the first year [of being open], Anah Shabbar put together an art show called Urban Sprawl with a bunch of her friends, and one of her friends, Andrew, showed his work here. He just came in this week and told me how that was his first show, and how afterwards he moved out to British Columbia to pursue Art School,” Condron said.
“He showed just his first show at the Kamloops Art Gallery, and Urban Sprawl gave him the confidence to do that. That’s pretty cool, just some little thing happened that gave him the confidence and desire to go and create art. Somehow I helped him with that, and I’m a hairdresser.”
Condron’s love for art music carries on into the shop, you could walk in any day and hear a wide variety of music playing – his personal favourite band being The Smiths. He also brings music to the table in helping determine hair styles.
“Music totally had an influence on my approach to hair. When I talk to people about hair, I’ll sometimes reference bands like Jesus and Mary Chain, Joni Mitchell or Morrissey,” Condron explained.
“I find with rock ‘n’ roll music, people aren’t that photoshopped, especially when it comes to them being on stage. They are real live people. I find it much more real than glossy pictures of girls with their hair photoshopped to be a completely unnatural straight line with their pores all filled in.”
In the passing time since the opening, Condron has maintained his clients and has been able to hire an employee in Amanda Mayhew. But, the past five years hasn’t been all that easy. Even now that the revitalization of St. Catharines’ downtown, that he was excited for when he opened up shop, is finally coming into fruition, he doesn’t expect the next five years to be a particularly easy either, but that doesn’t phase him.
“I think I was naïve thinking I could just open my doors and people would come here. It’s taken a lot of work and time. When I opened up, most of the places around me were vacant, but that’s slowly filling up which is a good thing. I don’t think it’s easy anywhere to be a small business downtown,” Condron said.
“Now I just roll with the rolls, and whatever happens, happens. It’s hard to predict how things will go. Will downtown just be restaurants and bars, or will it become an outdoor mall? I just want to do what I do and see how it all turns out.”
Bang On Hair Salon is hosting a 5th Anniversary Party on August 8.