When you first step inside, the white townhouse on College Avenue looks like your typical college apartment: a hardwood kitchen table, a big maroon sofa, a pink and blue mountain tapestry hanging on the wall next to framed quotes like “Adventure Awaits,” a ukulele and a sign with the Wi-Fi password. But if you glance to your left at the nook by the bay window, you’ll find a plush gray barber chair with a footrest, a black side table, and a vertical case of drawers filled with clippers, trimmers, shears, combs and brushes. A black sign with a clean, crisp logo — the outline of clippers, shears and a comb — hangs on the wall, providing the name for this space: Bethany’s Cuts.
Bethany’s Cuts is a haircutting business owned and run by Bethany Chun, a 22-year-old senior with short, straight black hair and a vibrant energy that fills the room and often manifests itself in her quick cadence of speech. As a business and economics major with a creative mind, Bethany quickly took advantage of a business opportunity that presented itself during her freshman year — namely, the need for quality, inexpensive haircuts for male college students. After much experimentation, Instagram tutorial videos and a few investments in professional haircutting equipment, Bethany became a skillful, self-taught barber and established a popular business with a near-constant flow of customers.
One of these customers, a regular at Bethany Cuts, is Matt Chesney, a dark-blonde-haired junior business and economics major. As Matt walks through the door, Bethany greets him with a warm smile, and the two chat as she walks him over to the barber chair. Bethany asks him about his baseball season as she ties on her apron, printed with a matching Bethany’s Cuts logo. She pulls up an Excel spreadsheet that contains data on all her customers, including their typical haircut style and the guard numbers and fades that they prefer. The guard numbers tell her how short to cut their hair and the type of fade determines how to taper each customer’s hair from top to bottom.
“Same as usual?” she asks Matt.
“Yep,” Matt nods.
Bethany fans a black barber cape around him, secures a neck strip around his neck, and thanks him for bringing his punch card. The punch card is Bethany’s loyalty program, and all her customers receive one. Each haircut costs $10, and for each visit, you receive a punch. If you refer a friend, you and your friend both get one punch. Once you get to punch number five, you receive a free haircut. High up on the wall of the haircutting studio, there is an assortment of about two dozen of these fully punched business cards, signed by each of Bethany’s customers. The genius of the punch card system is that Bethany doesn’t have to advertise. According to her, “Everybody wants to advertise to get punches.” Matt is evidence of the system’s success. He came here on referral from his friend Nathan Young, who came on referral from Ransom Wisley, a good friend of Bethany.
Bethany begins by combing through Matt’s hair and then moves on to using the clippers with a number three guard. Later, she will switch this out for a number two guard, achieving a slight fade from top to bottom. A steady, nasally buzzing noise provides an undertone for the conversation as little tufts of dark blonde hair fall onto the black cape and down to the wooden floor. Bethany finds haircutting very satisfying. She compares it to “mowing a lawn.”
Going back through with a comb, Bethany gets a pair of shears and begins trimming the top of Matt’s hair. Snip. Snip. Snip. According to Bethany, you can tell a professional barber from an amateur because a professional holds the scissors with her ring finger and thumb as opposed to the common pointer-finger-and-thumb hold.
“How’s class registration going, Matt?” The two continue conversing, covering everything from school to intramural tennis practice to the best and worst scary movies. One of the reasons Bethany enjoys this business is that it is people-oriented. “I’m a big extrovert, so I like getting to talk to people all the time,” Bethany later explains in an interview. “And barbers are kind of like — well, not really — but you pretend they’re your therapist. I talk to customers about whatever, like how their day was. I really like that.”
Bethany lowers the chair a bit using the foot pump and reminds Matt not to slouch. She swivels the chair around so she can cut from a different angle. Matt faces the Bethany’s Cuts sign on the wall and notices the assortment of signatures in gold and silver writing on the sign. “Ooh. Do I get to sign that?”
With excitement in her eyes, Bethany says that she will get out her Sharpie box after the haircut, and Matt can choose a color with which to sign his name. In addition to the punch cards on the wall, Bethany has all her customers write their names on the sign. Bethany hands a mirror to Matt and asks if he’s happy with the length. He is. She then moves on to using her thinning shears. Next comes the beard trimmer to adjust his sideburns and trim around the lower neck. A deeper, meditative hum fills the room. She uses a special brush to dust away the excess hair. “Looks even now.”
After going through once more with the comb, Bethany says, “Take a look. I think we’re good.” She takes off his cape, directs him toward the Sharpie box so he can sign the poster — he writes his name with a gold marker — and tells him to take a piece of candy on his way out.
After he leaves, Bethany sweeps up the hair on the floor. She says sweeping makes her feel more professional than vacuuming.
Although Bethany now has her business down to a science, it was not always this way. Before Bethany’s Cuts was established, she remembers hearing her guy friends complain about barbershops and the cost of haircuts.
“It’s the first time they’re adult enough to pay for their own haircuts,” Bethany said. “I thought that would be a good market to go into.”
According to Bethany, a typical men’s haircut can cost anywhere from $15 to $30, not including a tip. For example, at Sheridan’s Barbershop in Wheaton, a typical men’s haircut costs $25, and a haircut and beard trim costs $30.
During Bethany’s freshman year, her friend Erik Ostrem — a friendly, easygoing senior economics major with slightly curly, sandy brown hair — jokingly asked her to cut his hair. Bethany agreed, but on the condition that they wait until the end of the year. She had no experience cutting hair and was nervous about messing it up.
This haircut took place on the lawn outside of the Smith-Traber dorm building. They set up a wooden chair on the grass and plugged the clippers into an outlet on one of the light poles near the “Smaber Express” (the walkway to the dormitory). Erik recounts, “I was just in a tank top, so there was nothing covering me, and I was super itchy from all the hair. It took about an hour and a half, but we got through it.” One of the sophomores on Erik’s floor provided the proper shavers and helped guide Bethany as she gave the haircut.
Almost all of Bethany’s friends describe her as ambitious, someone who “knows what she wants and goes for it.” True to character, that summer of 2019 Bethany bought her own hair cutting equipment and came back ready for sophomore year. In between classes and extracurricular activities, she began giving haircuts in the laundry room in the basement of Smith-Traber. Initially, she didn’t charge her customers because she simply wanted to learn and practice her technique. As an incentive for her customers to come again, Bethany provided them with free alligator squirt guns. According to Erik, this is “a very Bethany thing” to do. Eventually, Bethany started charging for haircuts and instituted her punch card loyalty program.
Bethany’s business took off her junior year when she started giving haircuts in her college apartment at Terrace. Due to the pandemic and Wheaton College’s policy that students remain within the “Wheaton bubble” and avoid off-campus travel, Bethany saw a greater influx of customers who needed a haircut but were prevented from going to their typical outside barbershops. For sanitary purposes, Bethany purchased a cape and neck strip and even provided disposable masks for customers so they wouldn’t get hair on their own masks.
Bethany’s senior year saw even bigger developments with the addition of the barber chair, the black side table with drawers to store her haircutting equipment, and the personalized sign and apron.
In her time at Wheaton, Bethany has given approximately 300 haircuts to 120 different customers and she has a steady flow of about 60 regular customers. When asked why he chooses Bethany’s Cuts, Ransom Wisley, a senior psychology and philosophy major with slightly wavy dark brown hair styled into an undercut, answers, “The quality is just about as good as you get at a professional barber.”
Caleb Penney, a senior biblical and theological studies major with sandy-brown-hair, and a regular customer of Bethany’s, echoes these sentiments. “I would much rather get my hair cut by a friend than just a random person,” said Penney. “She’s far cheaper and a lot of times she’s better than the professionals. Plus, you can schedule at random times, and the commute is easy. It’s just simpler in every way.”
While price, quality service and convenience are all contributing factors to the success of the business, there is more to the story. A primary reason customers choose Bethany’s Cuts is Bethany herself. Many of Bethany’s regular customers are also close friends who know her well and can attest to her magnetic personality and deep care for others. Friday Funday Mail is a case in point. Freshman year, taking advantage of her job at CPO, Bethany would put small gifts in all of her friends’ mailboxes on Fridays — everything from bouncy balls to Chinese finger traps to little candies. That same giving spirit moves her to engage in reverse trick-or-treat every Halloween, giving candy at strangers’ doors rather than taking it. This tradition now manifests itself in candy bowls in her shop. Bethany also carries a spirit of service into her business, only charging $10 per cut and encouraging customers to skip the tip.
“I want it to be affordable, and I want them to enjoy the experience,” she says.
More than just a barbershop, Bethany’s Cuts is an extension of its owner. The girl with a warm smile on her face, thinning shears in hand, making small talk with her customers, is more than simply a barber performing a job. Customers who step out of the townhouse-turned-barber shop on College Avenue do not simply leave with better-looking hair, but also with a brighter day.
If you’re interested in getting a haircut at Bethany’s Cuts, you can sign up for a slot on her Calendly page using the link on her Instagram: @chunbethany. If you’re soon to be married and want tips on how to be your husband’s “forever barber,” Bethany also provides lessons in haircutting for future wives and their fiancés.