Fresh cut, fresh start. That’s the slogan of The People’s Barbershop, a new business that aims to provide more than just haircuts. Crucito “Cruz” Colon, the owner and operator of the new barbershop on State/Martin Luther King Jr. Street, wants his business to also be a resource for the community.
The barbershop officially opened several weeks ago and is located in the same building as the Multicultural Resource Center. While MRC takes up the upstairs, the barbershop and the Alliance for Families for Justice fill the bottom floor. Colon started cutting hair with his brothers back when he lived in Cleveland and found that he really liked it. Growing up, he and his brothers lived with their father but couldn’t afford to get haircuts very often. So, Colon picked up his father’s clippers and, as he puts it, started “doing experiments on my brothers.” Turns out, he was pretty good, and he had a love for cutting hair.
“I love when somebody sits in a chair and he’s so happy,” he said. “I think, being in this society if you want to get a job or an interview, or whatever the case might be, you have to look presentable.”
Over the years he got better and better. He started working in a professional shop at the age of 16 and when he ended up in the Ithaca-area he worked at Fine Line Barbershop for about three years. Colon ended up in the area when he went to visit his mother in Binghamton and met his wife, Fabina, the current director of the Multicultural Resource Center.
“There was something about Ithaca, I was like, this is so different,” he said. Now he’s been here 13 years and feels immersed in the community.
“I never thought that I was going to open my own barbershop,” Colon said. He and his wife had talked about the idea for years. “I used to come to this building and I used to sit by [the door to the barbershop] for 10 minutes and just picture how I was going to put this together.”
Being in the same building as MRC makes Colon feel closer to the community. He loves what the center does and wants to work with the people that MRC works with and be part of the community it has built.
“This is not just a barbershop, this is a community barbershop,” he said.
Already he has partnered with the Alliance for Families for Justice, a local re-entry program also run out of the MRC and headed by Phoebe Brown. Once a month he volunteers his time to cut hair for incarcerated youth. He does not want The People’s Barbershop to just be a place where people go to get their haircut. He wants it to help empower community members and give back in a meaningful way.
His vision for giving back is not new. He said he wanted to find ways to contribute even while working at other barbershops, but couldn’t quite make it work until he had his own shop.
“I want this place to be a place where you feel comfortable talking about what’s going on,” Colon explained. “It’s important to me because I know where I come from. I’ve seen a lot of stuff out there and I know the struggles.”
The shop (the first Puerto Rican barbershop in Ithaca, Colon said) is a part of who he is, he said. But the re-entry program isn’t the only program he’s working with. He also plans on working with local homeless shelters to volunteer his time and skills there as well. Currently, he is the only employee of the shop but eventually, he would like to hire another barber.
“I want to make sure that the person that I hire has support and sees the vision of why I made The People’s Barbershop,” Colon said.
In the future, Colon envisions passing on his skills by teaching a class for local teenagers, to give them a chance to get to know the barbershop business.
Eventually, he would like to expand the business to the upper floor and turn it into a barbershop and a salon. As to the relatively small room he’s in now, “you gotta start somewhere,” he said. He’s also working with a local artist to create a mural on the wall that reflects what is important to him. Eventually, the large empty wall will be a work of art featuring civil rights heroes sitting in a barber’s chair, reminding those who come to visit of the history that barbershops have, and the community they represent. Currently, the wall is adorned with the flag of Puerto Rico.
The name, The People’s Barbershop, makes him think of community, of his childhood, about who we are as humans. It’s not just a name, it’s his brand.
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