By Rasheedah Beatty
The barber known as Razor West is sitting in one of the styling chairs eating a sandwich from the local restaurant Pita Pit. Opposite him, his co-barber, Iesha Laing—known as Nattydread to her clients—is finishing up young man’s haircut. Rap music plays quietly in the background, and a basketball game plays on the flat screen TV mounted on the wall. The barbershop is a space that sits in a little corner on the third floor of 8 N. Court St. On the surface it seems a subdued spot to get a cut, but after a conversation with West, it is clear that the shop is full of life.
The Court Barbershop is the hub for the emergence of a culture unique for a small Appalachian town like Athens. What started as an opportunity for two barbers to venture out on their own and create their own shop is now a space where cultural exchanges, mentorship and difficult conversations can be safely facilitated. Although most small towns in America offer a similar communal dynamic, the inclusion of this black barbershop experience in a town that is predominantly white is exceptional.
Originally from Akron, West made opened the barbershop in January 2017, anticipating a new experience. “Cutting hair in the city was great, but it is so peaceful here. It is definitely a change of pace, but it is perfect for me and my family right now,” West says.
Today, students from all walks of life find peace and a safe space to can unpack their stress and just be who they are. “A lot of the students tend to just pop up. They just come in, sit down and join in whatever conversation is brewing,” West says. As far as brick and mortar business, one tenant that West upholds is that everyone has a right to their opinion and to express it so long as it isn’t hurting others. “I don’t care what you look like, where you are from or what your beliefs are,” West says. “This barbershop is a space where you can be authentic and share that as long as the conversation isn’t bringing anyone harm or discriminating.”
Laing and West are the two current stylists at the barbershop. Laing comes all the way from New Jersey. Laing considers herself a multi-faceted stylist with experience in many other fields. “I’ve worked in HVAC, the auto industry and as a stylist. There isn’t much I haven’t picked up as a skill and learned how to do.” Laing says. Laing is also well-rounded as a stylist and has worked with natural hair, coloring and, of course, haircuts. When asked about the transition, Laing says it has been a nice change of pace being out of the city
While dialogue is a core element of barbershop culture, beauty and personal grooming are central to why people go to barbershops. Having a good rapport with clients sets the tone for the way the relationship evolves over time. Patron Alonzo Webster, a finance student at Ohio University, says the barbershop has enlarged his worldview. “Conversations with West have exposed me to ideas I might not agree with, but it expands my thinking on certain topics,” Webster says.
This space has broadened a common theme in barbershop culture – it provides a father- and brother-like mentorship for men, as well as a jolt of self-esteem. “Getting a fresh cut boost confidence, you know?” Webster says. “It doesn’t matter what anyone outside the shop may say, whether you’re going bald or your hairline is messed up—once you’re in that chair, you know you’re going to leave looking better than when you came in.”