Video and Audio Story by Jarek Rutz
Diamond Cutz is the gem of North Philadelphia barber shops.
Located just a few blocks off Temple University’s campus, owner Jay Maraj, 44, and his team of skilled barbers have been serving the Temple community since their doors opened in 2013.
At the age of 18, Maraj’s barber commented on how he did a terrific job of shaping up his mustache, sparking his career as a barber. After working at Chop Shop on South Street, he was relocated to their shop on Liacouras Walk in the heart of Temple’s campus. This was in 2007, where his compassion for the Temple community began.
After the shop closed, the student body’s need for a barber shop remained open.
“I had so many clients from Temple, so many students that were asking me to open a shop, to come back to Temple,” Maraj said. “I just so happened to have a client that also was partnered with this building being built here. And he invited me down to take a look at the location, and I did. I walked around and I thought about it, and I just took a chance. I did it.”
Christian Fash, 31, has been a barber at Diamond Cutz since 2016. With a clientele of stressed college students, he aims to make their haircut experience as pleasant as possible.
“I can relate to the students because I know what it is to be a student and go to college because I’ve done it before,” Fash said. “I like to give the students a good service so they can feel happy, comfortable with the service I give. It’s something I’ve been doing for such a long time, and that’s my goal: to make every client feel happy.”
While most barbershops cater to a specific clientele, Temple’s extreme numbers mean a wide array of textures and styles. This is no challenge to the skilled barbers at Diamond Cutz.
“What separates us from everyone else is that we don’t just know how to do urban haircuts,” Maraj said. “We know how to do urban styles. We know how to do all styles. Long hair, short hair and all different textures. So we knew that Temple was missing that now with us gone and we knew Temple needed it.”
In light of the current health crisis, Diamond Cutz remained closed for several months. They reopened their doors in early July, suffering a hit to their business, which is currently down 60% while open. To stay open and ensure safety, Maraj is optimistically dedicated to making every possible effort to make safety the top priority.
“The good thing about us is that the standard for cleanliness has always been present, so now we just stepped it up a couple notches,” Maraj said. “Businesses slow down. It’s more involved when someone comes in. It’s the cleaning, you really have to be conscious of everything you’re doing, everything you’re touching.”
“You have to learn how to pace your breathing so you’re not breathing too hard,” Maraj also said. “In this setting, the client is actually less vulnerable than the actual barber because when you breathe, the breath comes out of the sides of the mask and the top, and we’re standing behind you. It helps that we aren’t allowed to do facial services, not that we would have even if we were permitted.”
“Generally we’re safe as long as we take our time,” Maraj continued. “I do this firstly, I control my breathing so that I don’t breathe in too much and definitely do not breathe on anyone. And just be very clean. Everything is disinfected: the chairs, the handles, the floor swept and mopped, everything’s bleached. There’s nothing you can touch in here that isn’t clean. After every client leaves, we go and clean everything that they touched where they sat.”
“It’s a lot more breathing in of chemicals,” Maraj said. “Getting used to wearing a mask is another thing in itself. We have to try to take breaks in between so that we can breathe fresh air. So we adapt. This is, like everyone’s saying, the new normal. It’s not horrible because I enjoy what I do for a living, so in order to do it, I just have to add a couple more things to it. And to me, I don’t know if it’s just my mindset, but it’s not really a big deal having to do these extra things. We’ll see as the months go by how it affects me but right now it could be that I’m excited because I just came back to work.”
Fash was naturally worried about coming back to work but he let this fear drive him to be as safe as possible on the job.
“It affected me because I was kind of scared to go out and I get paranoid people [were] too close to me,” Fash said. “Then I did a lot of research of how to protect myself and protect others.”
As for the length of the shutdown, Maraj strongly agrees with Gov. Tom Wolf’s orders to close, stressing the fact that human lives are more important than any business and the problems that have ensued as America has tried to fight COVID-19 while keeping businesses open.
“Barbershops and salons in any place where you have different people from different parts of the city coming together in the same location, to me, I see as a breeding ground for viruses,” Maraj said. “I agree with what Gov. Wolf did and I’m okay with the loss of business. And I’m okay with not being in work for however many months it takes, even if this shop were to close permanently, because what’s more important is if we can’t get over this in enough time. Every day COVID-19 is still running around and present in our lives. People are dying and people are getting sick, although the majority of people are recovering. We don’t know what the long-term effects would be and it’s not worth it. I don’t see this business as that important that it needs to be open, even if I have to get a job at Amazon or somewhere else. It’s okay, as long as we make it past this.”
Maraj and Fash’s efforts to keep Diamond Cutz clean is crucial to the shop staying open, but what about their customers? Do they feel safe in Diamond Cutz?
“Definitely,” said Jeremy Shockley, 21, a customer and Temple senior. “I feel like pretty much everything, from the couches to the sanitation or the utensils I come in contact with, I feel comfortable about. It’s all perfectly clean.”
“Definitely, super solid job keeping people out of here, there’s not a bunch of people in and they got the couches wrapped up,” said Colin Lubar, 23, a customer who recently graduated from Temple and now works in sales. “I got another, better mask when I got in here.”
“Terrible. No, I’m kidding, they’re doing great,” said Jason Amrowski, 23, a customer who works as a service response manager for Aramark. “Jay is doing a great job. I can tell he’s cleaning after every cut and really paying attention to everything he’s wearing and all of the equipment he’s washing down. They’re doing a great job.”
The bond between Diamond Cutz and the Temple community has grown even stronger through this pandemic. For Maraj, the youth of his customers gives his work much more meaning.
“When you’re working with younger people, it’s pretty amazing the energy that younger people have, the optimism,” Maraj said. “They’re starting fresh, life is just beginning for them as young adults. That energy is fun to work with, it’s exciting and they care so much about their hair so it’s more rewarding.”
“I’ve worked for Chop Shop and I worked on South Street and at times in Center City,” Maraj continued. “People get out of work and they’re burned out and they’re tired. They don’t really care too much, it’s just something they have to get done and it’s kind of like a job. So here, it’s just more fun. I feel like it’s more rewarding.”
Located at Diamond and 10th Streets, Diamond Cutz is just a short walk from Temple’s campus for a beautiful and safe haircut.