Updated: Mar 31
The first barbershop I worked at was a small shop in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York. I was 18 years old and I had no experience working in a shop, but I got the job by cutting a friends hair. The master barber thought my work was acceptable and gave me the job. I was excited to start a new job, and had no idea that it was going to be the start of a career.
The shop was small, with about 5-6 chairs, on Nostrand avenue where Caribbean culture was strong. On my first day, there was a chalk outline of a body where someone had been murdered.
I stepped over it and walked in. I think it scared me a little, but I had seen a lot in NYC at that point.
The cliente of this shop was a combination of characters but mostly a variety of different men from the West Indies. The dialect was something I had to get used to because it didn't seem like English to me and everyone had a little different twist on how they talked. I would get very nervous trying to understand what they were saying and some were very hostile.
I was threatened with bodily harm several times over dissatisfaction with my work, but the master barber would smooth things over and help me fix the problem. There was one time a customer waited outside for me, only to be scared off by one of the owners who I later found out was a murderer.
That changed the whole experience for me as I become more afraid of my employer than any of the customers. I had followed one of my friends there to work, and I felt safe when he was there, but one day he quit, to move on to better things.
My haircuts had got better and faster. I had begun to grow a small clientele and the money was good, but the owners behaviors were becoming more threatening. We had a staff meeting, and they threatened to beat us if we kept coming in late. My face must have told how I felt about it, because they threatened me with a gun.
Needless to say it was time for me to move on.
I left there to go to another salon in Harlem, where I learnt more about the trade that would become a full career.
I've been the new kid on the block a lot of places, and I can say that I have mastered being new.
I feel the industry must take in consideration when we have a new staff member, whether they are fresh out of school or just new to the area. It can be a experience of learning and growth or trauma and drama. Leading a person by the hand not only adds grace to the situation but also the type of environment the breed's prosperity and unity.
I was able to look back at my first shop experience and take from it what aided me in being successful. I'm not sure most people would have do so. When I had my salons and barbershops I always gave people the grace period to get comfortable, even if they didn't think they needed it. I also left space and time for education and training, instead of trying to tell them while they were working.
That spirit has lead me into education for the past 13 years.
I encourage everyone in the industry to create that space and understanding for new staff and clients alike.