SEMION Kikirov, 31, the cutting edge, blue-jeaned barber of Lincoln Street, hears lots of stories from clients falling under the spell of his soothing, expert craftsmanship.
His male customers regale him with news of their jobs, kids, grandkids, relationship issues, fast cars and filthy carburetors.
Like a trusted bartender at the neighborhood watering hole, Semion keeps every informational nugget under wraps.
I am a bartender in a way, he tells the IJN in a conference room above Semion Barbershop for All, which he opened last year with his brother Roman, 24.
But whats good about my job is that people are in much better shape when they come in here, he laughs. And they remember who I am the next time we meet.
An intense, turbulence-tossed man, Semions humor twinkles like the first star you see at night. You dont easily forget it.
Semion and his family are Bukharian Jews, descended from a unique culture that has survived in predominantly Muslim central Asia for 2,000 years.
After the fall of the former Soviet Union in 1991 and the ensuing civil war in Tajikistan, countless Jews left their homeland for the US or Israel.
The Kikirovs, among the last of Tajikistans Jews to flee the war-torn region, arrived in New York as refugees in 1999.
Accompanied by his parents, his sister Bella (now deceased) and brother Roman, the 18-year-old Semion utilized the tonsorial skills practiced by four generations of Kikirovs to help support the family in this brave new world.
I attended law school in Tajikistan, but I realized that being a barber was the only way to make money, he says. So I pursued my profession in New York.
Employed at various shops, he finally hit pay dirt when he was hired at Astor Place, the worlds largest barbershop. Semion cut hair alongside 120 barbers of disparate nationalities. The competition was fierce.
I was a kid of 18 or 19, he describes the invaluable experience. I thought I knew my trade. At Astor Place I learned that you can never know enough in this business.
You had to be good. You had to be fast. Thats how you established your client base. Astor Place was like a school the best on-the-job training imaginable.
In 2001, the Kikirov family moved to Denver, where Semion established a solid reputation at Floyds Barbershop. He left after nine years to strike out on his own.
Semion Barbershop for All is exactly that. Despite the mezuzzah affixed to the front door at 507 Lincoln St., one of the owners top priorities is incorporating diverse cultures under one roof.
There are places only black people go to get their hair done, Semion explains. There are places only Hispanics will patronize. I dont want anyone passing my shop to think twice about coming in for a haircut.
Roman manages the financial end of the business. Recipient of a degree in finance and accounting from DU, he faithfully wears a kipah.
Semion, who lost his hair at age 21 and is now rock-star bald, dispenses with a kipah for practical reasons. Its impossible to get it to stay on, he says.
You know, it isnt easy being a bald barber, he adds with a straight face. But its a lot easier than being a blind barber.
SEMIONS offers a wide range of services for men and women at surprisingly affordable prices. Unlike some high-end, nose-in-the-air salons, the barbershop puts a humble premium on comfort, value and quality.
Its true, I could have gone to an expensive womens salon, Semion says. But it didnt make sense. First of all, I dont pretend I can understand a new clients hair in an hour and then justify charging her $200.
He says its easy making customers look beautiful in the chair but heaven help them when they try to duplicate that same look at home.
When youre in the chair, I make you beautiful for that moment. But once you get home, wash your hair and try to play with it, you cant duplicate it. Its also very important to make sure hair looks good as it grows out.
The gender line at Semions is inviolate. Men receive haircuts from men, and female staffers apply their talents to women.
I dont claim to know a womans hair needs better than a female stylist, the barber says. Its not logical.
The barbershops menu of services offers delectable options for both sexes.
A 20-something guy might choose the Buzz, a one clipper-size run all over the head, followed by a hot lather razor neck shave.
Then theres the Face/Head Neck Shave evocative of an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story a classic straight razor shave with hot towel, massage and oils. The only thing thats missing is a cocktail.
Semions color palette for women includes all-over color, highlights, lowlights, custom color formulas and grey blending.
Womens haircuts are priced according to length. Children 12 and under get a good deal as well.
Paying less for your hair equals the playing field, Semion elucidates. If the stylist acts like a hair guru, you will be afraid to challenge his opinion and request something different.
But our prices encourage a collaborative relationship. You ask, we accommodate.
For some, visiting a new stylist for the first time can be a stress-inducing, hair-raising experience.
The master of several languages, the hip barber prides himself on being able to relax clients within the first 15 minutes.
Laying all your stuff on me restores your energy, he assures.
The Kikirov brothers dedicated the barbershop to their late sister Bella, also a stylist.
Abstaining from elucidation, they prefer to let the gesture speak for itself.
Tajikistan is a land unto itself. The food is unique. The fashion conforms to centuries of Muslim domination. And the hairstyles outmoded odes to bygone days are 21st-century feathered anachronisms.
The food is heavy, Semion says as Roman disappears into delicious memory. You get big in a few months if you eat it, but its very tasty.
Cooking is labor-intensive. Thats where Jewish women spend most of their time, in the kitchen.
The dress is old-school, says Roman, who seems to prefer taking a backseat to his brother. Jewish women in Tajikistan have always been influenced by Muslim dress. You wont see any modern dress on the streets of our country.
Asked about barbershop and salons in Tajikistan, Semion winces slightly.
The barber shops looked pretty awful, he says. Not good at all. Except it would be a lot cheaper to get your hair cut, of course.
Roman, yet another Kikirov barber, describes the shops as minimalist just one chair and one mirror.
Everyone wore mullets, Semion says. For guys, the hair is cut shorter on the side and blends into the length. The same is true for women, except the hair is feathered on top and segues into longer tresses.
Where we come from its very hot, Semion says. So people got their hair cut very short to feel cooler or because they couldnt afford regular maintenance and needed that cut to last.
Perms were popular. Color was unheard of.
And product a staple of Americas hair industry consisted of homemade concoctions.
We did put sugar in water, comb it through the hair and let it dry out, Semion says with disbelief. Or we used a dairy mixture for facials.
The women, Roman interrupts, were more stylish than the men.
Yes, I would agree, Semion smiles.
THE Kikirov brothers, who are both single, attend the Colorado Bukharian Center led by Rabbi Yaakov Abeyev.
While neither one works on Shabbat, there are perceptible differences in how they actualize their Judaism.
Roman is more spirituual than his brother. Every Friday afternoon he wishes a hearty Good Shabbos to the shops Jewish clientele.
I rest on Shabbat, I attend shul, Roman says. But wearing the kipah is the most obvious thing.
In Tajikistan, we had the Russian influence mixing with the Muslim influence mixing with the Jewish influence, all at the same time.
So I feel being a Bukharian Jew is very special.
Semion is a religious individualist.
When people ask me to define myself, I say Im Jewish, not a Bukharian Jew, he clarifies. Im just Jewish. I dont like labels or titles.
I stick with my roots, and thats it.
Jews like to separate themselves into this kind of Jew or that kind of Jew; observant or less observant.
But to the anti-Semite, whether youre Ashkenazi or Sephardi is irrelevant. To them youre Jewish. Nothing else matters.
Would Semion ever consider going back to Tajikistan for a visit?
Ill tell you what, he answers. Sometimes I dont choose the life. It just happens.
I cant say I would never return there because thats the country I came from and I will never forget where I came from.
I try to stick to my roots, which can be very hard in America. You get a lot more than you deserve and it blinds your eyes.
You lose your principles. You get lost.
As long as I remember who I was, I can keep my life here in perspective and appreciate it even more.
Copyright © 2012 by the Intermountain Jewish News