The Pelu Plague

I just couldn’t take it anymore. I barged through the front door of Quins Pels hair salon, interrupted the two women’s conversation, and demanded answers. “Why,” I asked, “are there so many goddamn pelus in Sant Andreu?” To my surprise, instead of asking me to leave, the topic piqued their interest.

But let me get a grip and explain. Sant Andreu, Barcelona’s enclave of cobblestoned calm, is not exactly a bustling commercial center. If for some reason you actually required a Mango, H&M or Zara, then you’d need to walk over the train gulch to La Maquinista or head into the city center. But if you fancy a café, a croissant, or, you guessed it, a haircut, then this is the place to be. Day after day of passing by so many hair parlors on my thrice-daily dog walks had slowly transformed a curious observation into a full-blown obsession.

Quins Pels – La pelu de Laura Martín is located at the epicenter of this phenomenon, and is one of three hair salons not only on the same block, but within six storefronts of one another on the very same side of the street. Fifty percent of the commercial establishments on this short stretch of carrer d’Irlanda are dedicated to beautifying the top of your head. After Quins Pels (1) and a tailor’s shop, you find Perruqueria Conchi (2), followed by a real estate dealer next to Terra (3). Insanity. And one that I had to face head-on.

I lucked out. For Laura, hairdresser and shop owner, just happened to be killing time between clients, chatting with Celeste, who sells products to hair salons all across Barcelona and knows its hair-dressing scene better than almost anyone. Celeste confirmed my suspicion that Sant Andreu was practically infested by pelus. “There is a higher concentration, and more variety. There is something for every price range,” she said. “In this area you can find seven or eight hair salons on the same street. In Sarrià, for example, you find quality, but not quantity.”

Part of it, of course, must be the relative security of hawking haircuts. Everyone, well, almost everyone, has hair. And talk about planned obsolescence! The darn stuff just keeps coming back. Another factor is hairdressing’s resistance to innovation, that word that seems to glimmer with promise but often just means the destruction of centuries of craftsmanship.

Laura, who has owned Quins Pels for over a decade, said that the neighborhood, with its pedestrian streets that limit through traffic, made it an ideal place for her to ply her trade. “This neighborhood is like a village,” she said. She opened her salon despite having two potential competitors right next door. “I know that my clients won’t go to them,” she said. “Each of us has our own concept.” And Celeste adds that “this neighborhood is relatively better off than the neighboring Sant Martí and Nou Barris. You can make a good living with a shop. The economic crisis hasn’t hit the sector as hard. Maybe people come less often, but they still come.” That, and there are a bunch of old folks in Sant Andreu with nothing better to do when they tire of cutting line at the bakery.

My welcome well worn out, I let Laura get back to doing what she does best. And that, by the way, is not adding mechas. She claims her organic keratin treatment is a healthy alternative to the typical processes that are toxic for both client and hairdresser. When in demand for summer, she does two or three a week at 240 to 300 euros a pop. “It’s exquisite,” she said. “If this were a restaurant, it would be my signature dish.”

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