There are things about a person’s personal appearance that others immediately notice: their smile, their eyes, their posture and their hair. There are many professionals that can help us improve or change these things about us, like doctors, dentists and chiropractors.
There is one professional, however, that we may visit more often than the others: a barber.
A good haircut isn’t hard to come by in the diverse community within Hudson County, but how many of these haircuts can be described as “an experience,” or “magical?” Israel Rios, a barber in Bayonne, aims to redefine what it means to get a haircut through his barber shop, Iz Real Art.
Looking at the barber shop’s Instagram account, one thing becomes apparent: “it’s more than a haircut, it’s an experience.”
And an experience it is at Rios’ shop.
The iconic spinning barber shop pole outside lets you know that this it is indeed a barber shop, but walking in the shop transports you to a world of magic and wonder: the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Yes, you read that right.
Like many of the things in Harry Potter, what looks normal on the outside, is often extraordinary on the inside.
The wall to your right is made of bright maroon bricks, resembling the iconic brick wall that grants wizards access to Platform 9¾ to ride the Hogwarts Express. Each wall in the shop is decorated with Funko Pops, action figures, posters and various prop replicas from the Harry Potter movies. Three TVs are mounted on the wall to your left, always playing something entertaining ranging from “Rocky IV” to “Ahsoka.”
When you’re in the chair while Rios is working his (for lack of a better word) magic, he’ll talk to you about anything and everything, with never a dull moment at this shop.
Interested in what’s playing on the TV? Rios only plays movies and shows that he’s a fan of, so he’ll hold a discussion about the topic with passion of the likes that could only be seen in die-hard fans, which he clearly is.
By the time the end of your appointment comes around, you almost can’t believe how fast it flew by and just how good you look.
What he says is true: “it’s not just a haircut, it’s an experience.”
Rios has been cutting hair for nearly 20 years.
He began cutting hair at 14 years old and would travel from Puerto Rico, where he and his family lived, to the United States to cut hair at his father’s barber shop. Since then, Rios felt inspired by what his father was doing and decided to become a barber himself.
“My father was a barber, so for me it was a great way to spend time with him,” Rios said. “Little by little, I started falling in love with the craft.”
After traveling back and forth between Puerto Rico and the United States from 2008 to 2010, Rios made the decision in 2011 to move to the United States to chase his dream of being a barber, the same year that the final Harry Potter movie “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” released. Whereas one influential journey in Rios’ life came to an end, another life-changing journey would begin.
Israel opened his first location under the Iz Real Art name back in 2019 and his dreams began to become a reality. A small, hole-in-the-wall barber shop that was decorated ceiling-to-floor with Harry Potter memorabilia.
Having a Harry Potter-themed shop was an easy decision for Rios, as the Harry Potter series is his favorite fictional series. Rios first discovered the series in 2003 after watching the first two movies and he fell in love with it. He loved the connected stories, the feeling of wonder that each movie gave him and the fact that he grew alongside the actors.
“Harry Potter is the one,” Rios said. “It was gonna make this [barber shop] a magical place.”
Rios lost his father in 2014 and he felt that giving his shop a Harry Potter theme would be a great way to both express his love for the series and pay tribute to his biggest inspiration.
“When I decided to do a Harry Potter theme [my thought was] ‘My father’s not here with us, but it’s like Harry Potter: [his parents] weren’t with him, but in their own way they were there for him,’” Rios said.
While Rios’ father is no longer with him, his legacy lives on through Rios’ passion for being a barber.
“My father left us a legacy,” Rios said. “He’s not [here] in life right now, but we live through him.”
Beyond the collectibles and decorations (and even some inspiration in the shop’s logo), Rios also offers a service called “the Patronus Charm,” named after one of the most useful spells in the series, “Expecto Patronum.” Rios figured this to be the perfect name for the shop’s best service, including a haircut (and shave, if your appointment booking indicates it), a facemask, shampoo, time in a massage chair, a complimentary beverage and hot towels.
“The Patronus Charm is the best service the barbershop has,” Rios said. “The reason why I called it [the Patronus Charm] is [because] that’s the best spell in the whole franchise.”
He ended up moving to his current location in 2022 that had more space for his business (and his collectibles). Rios also added a small nail station to the shop just a few months ago after discussing the idea with his wife for over a year and a half that the two of them run.
“The reason I added the nail station was [because] a lot of [men] would be a little fearful of going to the nail [salon], so I tried to make something more comfortable for [men]” Rios said. “[The nail station] is also for women too, it’s not only for men.”
Rios has plans for the future of Iz Real Art, wanting to make it a franchise with multiple locations.
He would like to give each shop a different theme, rather than all of them having a Harry Potter theme. Besides Harry Potter, Rios is also an avid fan of Star Wars and would love to open up a second location with the iconic space opera saga being his theme.
Beyond expanding the Iz Real Art brand, Rios wants to make these places a one-stop-shop for all things beauty, hoping to incorporate a barber shop, a hair/nail salon and a tattoo parlor in all of his shops.
“[I want to make my shops] like a beauty mall,” Rios said. “That’s my dream.”