Dani Waters tries to avoid being asked what she does for a living.
Far too many times, she’s answered that question, only to receive quizzical looks.
“I’m a barber,” she says.
“Don’t you mean a hair dresser?” replies the questioner.
Meanwhile, Waters holds back a sharp comment and an eye roll.
There are over a dozen barbershops in Harrisburg, but women barbers are harder to find. Barbers like Waters have to prove themselves over and over to show that they don’t only trim layers and touch up roots, but can work magic with a razor.
Sometimes, it takes tricks like going by Dani instead of Daniél, to get customers in the door, but even that isn’t foolproof. Men have walked into her shop thinking they were getting a male barber and were hesitant to stay when they saw a woman. One guy even walked out.
“I’ve had to prove myself,” Waters said.
Working her way up over the years hasn’t been quick or easy, but she now owns her own business, Tomboys Barbershop, in downtown Harrisburg.
Beauty School Dropout
Waters has been doing hair since she was a kid. Whether it was family members or her Barbie dolls, she made each look good.
Once she grew up, she tried her hand at beauty school, but left after making it only a third of the way.
“I didn’t feel like I fit into salon culture,” she said.
Waters went back to college while caring for three children as a single mom, but couldn’t stop doing people’s hair. It was her thing. Still feeling drawn to the profession, she decided she would go to barber school this time. Spoiler alert—she loved it.
She worked for a few years at Lords and Ladies Hair Salon and later, at a friend’s shop, before opening her first shop, Capital Shave Club, in Lemoyne. She was able to open a snug, 320-square-foot studio with $2,000 that she had raised through client donations.
That space served her well for two years, but, with her client base growing, she dreamed of a bigger place.
For years, Waters eyed a spot in downtown Harrisburg. It was four times the size of her Lemoyne shop and was situated in the heart of the city. She saved up money, wondering when the time would come that she could finally get her coveted spot on N. 3rd Street, a storefront that’s part of Strawberry Square.
In the beginning of December, she finally opened Tomboys Barbershop. There are four chairs in the shop, which resembles what she described as a “really nice, high-end, finished garage.”
“We offer salon services, but in a barbershop environment,” Waters said. “You can still get the pampering.”
Tomboys Barbershop does both men’s and women’s washes and cuts and offers manicures and pedicures for both, as well. These do not include nail polish so that men aren’t intimidated, and it eliminates the “nail shop smells.”
“It’s a place where you can hang out,” she said. “You can stop in on your lunch break and see who’s in the chair getting their hair cut. It’s really nice when you walk by and see your friends.”
For Waters, her work isn’t just about making people look good, but about making them feel welcome and comfortable.
“I prepare people for job interviews,” she said. “I see them before their funerals, their graduations, their weddings and every major life event. I’m there for them, and I help them prepare mentally and physically.”
The relationships she has built mean more to her than the haircuts she’s given. Not only does she help her clients and talk them through rough life situations, but they are there for her, too.
She told the story of a client who would bring her meals to each appointment, knowing she was in the midst of a busy time in life.
“Dani is an artist in every respect of the word,” said David Roth, who has been a client for over four years. “Her listening skills are unparalleled. That’s what makes her largely successful.”
Roth recalled many times that they have opened up to each other about things in their personal lives, with the knowledge that whatever is shared stays in the chair. Over the years, he said, she has become a friend.
Johnny Baer is another client who Waters has seen for years. He remembers looking for a new barber and being nervous if she would cut his hair just as he likes it.
“She did a great job, and she’s been my barber ever since,” he said.
Although Baer said he and Waters have very different personalities, they can talk about anything and everything.
“She has a unique personality that is infectious,” he said.
Waters loves working with a wide range of customers and welcomes a challenge, like styling hair that is difficult to tame or helping non-English speaking and special needs clients. It all comes back to the people.
“Barbers are at the hub of their community, right at the core, right at the center you have your barbershop,” she said. “This business legitimately is my dream.”
Tomboys Barbershop is located at 3 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.capital-shave-club.business.site.