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The new Utopia Barbershop in Whitestone is a special place.
The shop at 20-06 Utopia Parkway is split in two. The left side looks like a typical barbershop, but the right side looks like a mini-Toys“R”Us, replete with bright colors, murals of cartoon characters and video game consoles.
That part of the shop is designed to make it easier to cut the hair of special needs children, such as kids with autism, who usually fuss while getting trimmed, owner Radik “Ray” Khaimov said. With specially trained barbers and calming features, he hopes his barbershop will become a utopia where parents can take their kids without any worries.
“When they look around they’ll feel like it’s a friendly place,” Khaimov said. “Barbershops should be a friendly place. When they walk in, they have to feel at home.”
Khaimov, a Russian immigrant, comes from a family of barbers. His grandfather, father, and uncle were all barbers in Russia, and his older brothers are continuing the family trade in New York City as well.
A 15-year hair cutting veteran, Khaimov wanted to do something different when he decided to open his own shop, because “all barbershops are the same,” he said. His wife, who teaches special needs children, advised him about cutting their hair, and he expanded on the idea for his shop.
There is an airplane and black cab barber chair for kids. Cables, scissors and other equipment are hidden, and customized clippers make almost no sound. The lights are dimmed on the right side, because Khaimov said it could bother the children’s eyes. And while the kids wait for their haircuts, there are Nintendo Wii, Playstation 3 video games and an arcade system that they can play for free. Soon, Khaimov said, iPads will be added for children to watch movies and surf the Internet as well.
Khaimov said three of his six licensed barbers are trained to work with special needs kids and the others are learning. During the cuts, these barbers try to calm the children down by conversing with them, singing songs or counting. Also, the barbers work fast. Haircuts last just seven to 15 minutes so the kids don’t get upset.
“The point is to let them feel comfortable, and let them feel we are friends,” barber Meny Yoshevayev said. “I love to do it, because I feel that I’m helping parents who don’t know where to go. It makes my day.”