Everything happens at the barbershop. At least that’s what LeBron James said during an episode of his HBO series, The Shop. According to guests on the show, the barbershop is the place members of the black community go to discuss anything from family life to sports and music. The conversations are nothing but totally open and brutally honest.
Inspired by the show, I turned to Cameron Williams and James Jackson, III to see if this representation of barbershops was accurate. They assured me it was. I had never been to a barbershop, so the two of them introduced me to Melvin Graddy and Romone Vaughn, the co-owners of Brickyard Barbers in Millcreek, Utah.
“The barbershop is the man’s country club,” says Mr. Graddy. “People love to use us as therapy. We do a lot of that. I know everybody’s business. Some good, some bad. Some I asked for, some I didn’t ask for. Some people just want advice, some people just want to get things off of their chest.” He adds that some clients don’t even come in for a haircut, they just come by to hang out and talk.
I witnessed that firsthand. There seemed to be a revolving door of clients coming in and out of the shop at all times, all greeted by name. Some had scheduled appointments, some walked in hoping to get a quick cut, and others passed time on the couch while talking about anything and everything. I soon realized that it didn’t matter what brought someone through the door, every member of the community was welcome at Brickyard.
While there, I met Jasen Lee, a reporter for the Deseret News who happened to stop in for a beard trim. As he awaited his turn in the chair he told me he comes into Brickyard often, and considers his time at the barbershop a form of “therapy through fellowship.”
”I think of going to the barbershop as ‘spending time with the fellas.’ Sometimes we talk about things going on in the world, or sports, or family life,” Mr. Lee says, making it clear that the experience is about more than just getting a haircut. “I just like being around and interacting with the people who come to the shop. Usually, when I leave, I feel better than I did when I came in, having shaken off some of whatever I may be going through.”
“We keep marriages alive,” Mr. Graddy tells me, with his clippers in hand, while describing his responsibilities as a barber. “We keep boyfriends and girlfriends [together] because we make them look good. If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you are good.”
He and Mr. Vaughn worked together at another local barbershop before branching off to start their own, originally in Brickyard, seven years ago. “I was cutting my own hair in high school because I got tired of my grandma giving me bowl cuts,” laughs Mr. Vaughn. “So I pulled out the clippers. I figured it couldn’t be anything worse than what she was doing.”
Together, the pair have almost 40 years of combined experience and they’ve developed a certain love for cutting hair as well as a certain bond with their clientele. “[Barbering] is kind of like an art,” says Mr. Vaughn. “I enjoy being able to paint a picture on someone’s head and make them look good. Because at the end of the day, [people come] to the barbershop to feel good about themselves.”
And not only do clients leave Brickyard feeling physically good―I hear this is easy to do after getting one of the best fades in the Valley―but many of them leave the shop feeling better, both physically and mentally. When I asked Mr. Williams what kept him coming back to the shop, he told me that Brickyard was a great place to get your haircut, but more importantly, a critical part of Utah’s black community.
“The barbershop is an extremely important place in our community,” he says. “It’s where you go to see if there is validity to some of your thoughts or opinions, [because there] are no filters at the barbershop, regardless of age, so you are always going to get the truth. It is a place to laugh and have fun, but also a safe haven when things are not going well. The barbershop in the black community is home base.”
And it was easy to see why. After a trip to the barber, you’re left with more than the haircut that you came in for, you’re left with a sense of community and a sense of belonging. Which, in my opinion, is what will make barbershops like Brickyard a true staple for years to come.