West Kensington and Fairhill: Five Places to Get a Shape Up Under the El

Kensington Avenue is a bustling promenade featuring all types of characters, businesses and commotion. West Kensington and Fairhill are two neighborhoods in Philadelphia that express an identifiable culture, which involves all who pass through. Here the barber shop and nail salon cultures thrive. With shops offering $5 haircuts and $2 shaves, getting shaped up is accessible to all. This large market sustains multiple shops under the El, drawing clientele from near and far.

Sharp City Barber Shop, Kensington Avenue & Allegheny Avenue

An unassuming storefront leads customers into the cool shop that is Sharp City Barber Shop (pictured above). Up in Fairhill on 3089 Kensington Avenue, shop owner Javier Ruiz, above, opened up only a year ago. The shop has established quite a following and was considered one of the best shops under the El by neighbors. Ruiz has lived in the area since 1999 and has wanted to own a shop that had a positive and welcoming atmosphere. He explained that they try to keep it a family place. Sharp City offers a pool table and arcade games in addition to the two barber chairs where Ruiz and another barber cut hair. Ruiz said, “we’re here everyday, we never shut down the doors to anybody.”

Da Nail Spot

Da Nail Spot, Kensington Avenue & Cumberland Street

Open since 2006, Da Nail Spot boasts more than 100 regular customers. The Kim Family owns a series of barber shops and nail salons along Kensington Avenue, but this one was one of their first salons. Da Nail Spot boasts a calm and serene atmosphere and is always focused on giving the customer the experience they are looking for. “It’s all about the customers, we always try to make them happy,” said Kim.

Steel Beauty Salon

Steel Beauty Salon, Kensington Avenue & Allegheny Avenue

In the Fairhill neighborhood of Philadelphia on Kensington Avenue, Steel Beauty Salon just opened up six months ago. Owner Vince Hill, above, said he opened the shop to provide a service to the area he has lived in for quite some time. The shop is simple with five or six chairs and just a few barbers working at a time, but it provides an open and familiar atmosphere to those who come back. But like most barbers in the area, Hill says, “business is low because there’s a lot [of barbers] around, but I’ll keep trying for new business.”

Kim Family Care

Kim Family Care, Kensington Avenue & Cumberland Street

Ask around in West Kensington what people’s favorite barber shop is under the El and they’ll refer back to Kim Family Care. Walk in and it truly is a family affair. Owner Tommy Nguyen and his family have been providing quality barber service since 1994. Nguyen said Kim Family Care was the first barber shop on Kensington Avenue almost 20 years ago. The shop offers shape ups for $5 and has also seen some hardship as more and more shops open up along the Avenue. “20 years ago there was a long line outside. Right now we are still the best, our customers stay with us. After they go away, they return to us because they know we are the best,” said Nguyen.

Jackie's Nails

Jackie’s Nails, Kensington Avenue & Somerset Street

Tan Du, above, opened up Jackie’s Nails on Kensington Avenue 10 years ago in 2004. He chose his location under the El because it was close to where he lived and he didn’t see too many quality nail salons in the area. The business that came kept the family there. Customers have been loyal and insist the professionalism keeps them coming back to Kensington Avenue. They all agree that it’s cheap and it’s clean, which is key to a good nail salon.

– Text and images by Marissa Nicole Pina and Alisa Miller

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