Art of the razor: new barbershop in Lake Cowichan

“Now, if you can shave the fuzz off a peach without ripping the skin, you’re going to be fine.”

Ray Anne Marcoux

When learning to shave someone using a straight razor, the popular advice is to put shaving cream on a balloon. If you can’t get the cream off without popping it, you’re not doing it right.

But Ray Anne Marcoux disagrees.

“I wouldn’t even think of using a balloon. It’s not the same,” she said. “Now, if you can shave the fuzz off a peach without ripping the skin, you’re going to be fine.”

A peach is perfect because not only does it more closely resemble human skin, but its surface also replicates the divots, dimples and curves of a real person’s face. Ray Anne said sometimes it can even be done without the cream, if you guide the razor just so.

Ray Anne is old school. And that’s precisely what sets Rayzors Traditional Barbershop apart, which she and her husband, Barry, opened earlier this month in Lake Cowichan.

It’s been a whirlwind autumn for the pair. Just a few months ago they never could have imagined they’d be living and opening a business here at the Lake. Ray Anne had never been to Lake Cowichan before and Barry only once.

“It literally came to me in a dream,” said Barry.

He and Ray Anne were living in Victoria and looking to open a barbershop, and one night in early September Barry dreamt about Lake Cowichan. Upon waking, with the lake still on his mind, he did a quick google search of the town and no barbershops came up. The couple decided they’d take a drive up; if nothing else, it would be a beautiful day trip and after all, Ray Anne had never been. They scoped out a few possible locations, but nothing grabbed them. Until they pulled into Country Grocer to get some lunch.

When Ray Anne returned to the car with some sandwiches, Barry was pointing at a For Rent sign in the storefront between Lake Cowichan Chiropractic and the BC Liquor Store.

“It was perfect,” Barry said. “In our business, you need an anchor. Something nearby — a grocery store, a liquor store, a bank — that draws people in. Well we found a location surrounded by all three.”

Everything felt right, including the community. They found the people friendly and they loved the prospect of all the outdoor activities available to them here.

In less than a month, they had moved up from Victoria, and Barry — a renovator who will be opening his own business in the new year — was designing and building Rayzors. They’re a team, with Ray Anne behind the chair and Barry behind the scenes.

Originally from Montreal, they moved to the west coast in 1997 and fell in love with it. Most of that time has been spent in Victoria and the surrounding area, although they did spend three years in Shawnigan Lake, so they aren’t totally unfamiliar with small town living.

“We’re from the big city, but our hearts are in the country,” said Barry.

Ray Anne got her start as a barber 30 years ago in Montreal, under the tutelage of two Italian immigrant barbers. In that city, barbers and hair dressers weren’t required to have a licence — “If you’re good, everybody finds out. If you’re bad, everybody finds out” — which meant when Ray Anne wanted to work in her town, just outside Montreal, she needed proper certification.

“So I went back to school and started with hairstyling because you figure it’s everything,” she said. But after school, she quickly learned that working in a salon was not for her. “Then I saw an advert for a barbershop and I thought, ‘What the heck. How different can it be?’ Very different. And it was a difference that I really, really enjoyed.”

Ray Anne found it easier to work with men. Her father was a mechanic with his own business and she was more-or-less raised in the garage; she freely describes herself as being a little rough around the edges, and the environment of a traditional barbershop suited her perfectly.

“The clients come because they need a hair cut, not their life changed,” she said. “It’s very straightforward, very honest. There’s a lot more honesty in a barbershop chair than in a hair salon chair.”

Rayzors offers haircuts, beard trims, and also hot towel shaves. What makes theirs a “traditional” barbershop? Barry said part of it is being greeted with a smile and being brought into the conversation, whether you’re in the chair or waiting for your turn. There’s no loud music blaring, no wifi.

But the biggest difference is having skills with a razor.

“I find what separates a stylist from a barber is that ability to pick up a straight blade,” said Ray Anne.

And the precision to shave a peach, not a balloon.