Barbershops offer much more than traditional haircuts in Old Brooklyn—where barber chairs double as school desks, as psychologists’ couches, as job counselor offices, and as safe spaces.
Take Urban Kutz Barbershop, which regularly offers free blood pressure screenings as part of founder Waverly Willis’ S.W.A.G. (Saving Women and Gents) program, or The Trim Barbershop, which recently helped neighborhood kids head back to school in style with a day devoted to free haircuts and school supplies.
For The Trim's owner Derek Jones, it’s all part of offering both style and substance to the community. “I’d like to think that we play an important role in the community as a sort of getaway from typical everyday stress,” says Jones. “Barbers and customers not only become friends, but a trusted sounding board.”
I Read I Lead program via TUBAMore than a barber chair
After Willis expanded beyond his initial Urban Kutz location in Cudell with a second location in Old Brooklyn, it didn’t take long to notice the way locals openly showed their Old Brooklyn pride. Since then, Willis has made it a priority to engage the neighborhood’s residents in every possible way via his nonprofit, The Urban Barber Association—from literacy programs to an employment guide for formerly incarcerated individuals. "Everything outside of cutting hair funnels through the Urban Barber Association," explains Willis.
TUBA also recently received a Cleveland Foundation grant for the aforementioned blood pressure screenings, which are facilitated by Cleveland State University and Case Western Reserve University students every month.
Mounted Police officers at The TrimBoth Urban Kutz and The Trim have participated in programs with the City of Cleveland Police Department. “They spoke to the kids and brought along a horse from their Mounted Police Department,” explains Jones, who believes these local programs are crucial to lessening tension in the community between police officers and citizens.
With many repeat customers, local barbers truly get to know their clients. Ramon Claudio, who owns Top of the Line Barbershop, remembers opening the barbershop nine years ago when there weren’t many in the area. Kids who got some of their first haircuts from him are now on their way to college. “It makes me feel good that moms feel good coming to my barbershop,” he says.
Willis intentionally sought a diverse neighborhood for what he calls his “all-encompassing, super diverse, and all-welcoming business model,” and he credits the Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation (OBCDC) for making a conscious effort to foster that diversity.
Urban Kutz“Communities say they’re trying to increase diversity because it sounds good, but not many make the actual effort. [OBCDC] has always done everything they can to help out. They showed me they weren’t just words,” Willis says.
True to form, Urban Kutz has become a safe haven for a wide variety of clients. “So many people from the LGBTQ community have come in and told us they appreciate having an atmosphere where they can be a regular person,” says Willis. “As an African-American man, I can really identify with that—how people noticeably treat you different—and that’s a shame.”
Extensions and expansions
Willis wants to continue this legacy of acceptance with his next project: Urban Kutz Style Studio, which will open next door to Urban Kutz on October 5th. The Trim Barbershop also has plans to expand, with “the ultimate goal” to become a franchise, according to Jones.
Top of the Line barbershopTop of the Line Barbershop and Coffee Coffee Coffee feed off of each other, revitalizing the area. “We’re making it a cool scene,” Claudio says. He will continue to participate in Old Brooklyn events (having volunteered for the Smorgasbord dunk tank in July), and hopes to keep attracting people to the neighborhood, even when he is on the road cutting hair for Machine Gun Kelly, UFC fighters, and other celebrities.
Claudio has also developed a mobile app to streamline booking appointments. “They can listen to playlists and see pictures of haircuts, too,” Claudio explains. “It’s in the development stage, but my clients are loving it so far.”
The barbers of Old Brooklyn are paving the way for a diverse generation of business owners, and building off the Old Brooklyn ideal of a welcoming community. In the meantime, as Jones says, “We will continue to focus on taking care of our customers, one head at a time.”
This article is part of our On the Ground - Old Brooklyn community reporting project in partnership with Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation, Greater Cleveland Partnership, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, Cleveland Development Advisors, and Cleveland Metropolitan School District. Read the rest of our coverage here.