At downtown Wilmington’s newest barbershop, customers can sip crafted cocktails while getting their hair trimmed.
The Exchange Barbershop & Lounge opened its doors at 104 Grace St. in mid-December, bringing its barbershop-and-bar concept to Wilmington. Business owner and CEO Sarah McAllister said she aims to bring an “old-timey” but upscale feel to the new shop.
“My vision of this place is an old-time saloon … and so that’s why I have a lot of the black and white old antique pictures, but I also have pictures of John Wayne,” she said. “It’s just bringing back a little bit of history in the old salon days but with a modern twist.”
McAllister started her business in Apex, offering massage therapy and spa services. Her shop also included a salon and, in the back, a small, three-chair barbershop. McAllister said she used the COVID-19 pandemic as a chance to reset the business.
With the barbershop gaining in popularity, she decided to add more barber chairs and move them to the front of the shop. McAllister and her husband, a general contractor, also added a bar.
“When we had the barber shop, we used to give free beer,” she said. “It became a thing of the guys always wanted a beer, and I said, ‘Well, why don’t we just open a cocktail bar and actually serve alcohol and go about it the right way.’”
The Apex shop is located in a historic building that was originally called the Exchange warehouse, which is where the shop’s name comes from, McAllister said.
She looked at adding a second location closer to the Apex shop, but she started looking toward the coast when those plans fell through. After doing some online searching, McAllister found the storefront on Grace Street – a space that formerly housed the downtown location of Wrightsville Beach-based retailer Redix.
“We fell in love with it when we walked in,” she said.
McAllister was especially drawn to the openness of the space and its exposed brick, which gave the interior a historic feel. She said that its downtown location also drew her to the space because of the potential for foot traffic.
She leased the space last February with the goal of upfitting it in six months. However, repairs and inspections took longer than expected, delaying the opening until December.
So far, The Exchange has seen a relatively “steady flow” of walk-ins and clients, but there’s a lull in business at the bar during weekdays – things tend to pick up in the evenings and on weekends, she said. They plan to host live music and other events to draw people in in the coming months.
McAllister said that while anyone can get their hair cut at The Exchange’s barbershop, customers need to purchase a membership to drink at the bar.
The Exchange offers four levels of one-year memberships, ranging from a $25 silver membership, which allows members one guest, to a $450 VIP platinum membership, which allows up to 50 guests. Platinum membership holders can also host one private event in the shop’s space each year. The higher-level memberships are typically geared toward businesses, McAllister said.
While she’s still putting the finishing touches on the Wilmington shop, McAllister said she’s looking forward to what the future holds.
“We’re just excited to be here in Wilmington and see what Wilmington gives us,” she said.