Truck, Scissors, Legacy

“The only way to be remembered is to affect the living,” says Michael Cohen.
Photo by Rachel Pressley

Michael Cohen has a collection of client before-and-after photos that represent his views on hairstyling as an art form. In the past few months, he’s opened a mobile haircare unit to serve homeless communities in Asheville and Hendersonville. Polk County is next. 

Cohen has settled his box-truck-turned-salon in parking lots and watched as lines form for free trims. He says he’s completed 150 haircuts since he began.

“The only way to be remembered is to affect the living,” says Michael Cohen. “I started doing hair for the homeless in Hendersonville on 7th Avenue, and when you get someone who is raw like that, and you redo them and they see themselves, it changes them. That smile is amazing. To me, that’s the rawest form of art I can find.”

Cohen has spent a couple of years outfitting the box truck for this purpose. He’s also worked hard to recently open Saluda Hair Garage, located in an old Esso station on Highway 176. The shop takes the garage theme to a new level (a hair cut is a “tune-up,” a coloring is a “paint job,” a conditioning treatment is an “oil change,” etc.).

It’s the mobile unit, though, that provides the ultimate transformation, as Cohen helps those who can’t pay for what so many of us take for a granted — an uplifting few moments in a chair with someone who wants to improve us.

How long have you cut hair?

Since I was 13, and now I’m 49. I always looked at it as an art form. My grandmother used to do wigs for cancer patients in Boston, so I would help her with those wigs. My whole life I’ve done this, and I’ve worked in Los Angeles and in Boston and all over the country. 

How did you end up in Western North Carolina?

I bought land in Sevierville [Tennessee], but I like this side of the mountains better. It’s more commercial there … it’s like Disney World. My yurt is still there on my land in the Cosby area. I like it over here because there is still that small-town attitude, but there’s more work here.

How did your idea for a mobile salon come about?

When I was young, I drew up plans to take an RV, shell it out, and make it into a mobile salon. At the time I didn’t know what I’d use it for. I worked on it off and on, and then my grandmother died and right before, she mailed me the plans. I’ve worked on it every day for about three years to finish it.

Michael Cohen’s Helping Hair Salon Truck.
Photo by Rachel Pressley

So how does a box truck become a salon on wheels?

It’s solar powered, but I have to use a generator every once in a while for the mobile hot-water unit. It’s a very simple thing. I’ve hooked up water tanks for a shampoo sink. There’s one barber’s chair and a little reception area in the back where people can sit down if the weather is bad. The chair can swivel around to the shampoo sink. I bought the box truck about four years ago in Tennessee, when I was living off grid, and began to work on it. I guess it was used for moving stuff before.

Is this a trend?

I believe there are a few mobile salons made out of high-end RVs out West, but I’m pretty sure this is the first mobile salon specifically [offering services] for the homeless. 

In addition to his community work on the go, Michael Cohen also cuts hair for a host of regular clients in his shop Saluda Hair Garage
(in the chair: Don Mintz).
Photo by Rachel Pressley

Does your new shop in Saluda operate on a similar principle?

The shop is open to anyone, and no one will be turned away for financial reasons. That’s just the way it is.

Saluda Hair Garage is open at 144 West Hwy. 176 (across from Green River BBQ). For more information, call 828-450-3270.

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