Black-owned barber shop is a cut above the rest to clients


There's a lot of buzzing going on in Michelle Rose Warren's shop. And not just the electric clippers and razors shaving away men's hair, sideburns, beards and mustaches.

Chitchat and jocularity electrify Mrs. Warren's barber shop, the Hair Cutters -- Columbia's only black-owned barber shop -- in the Snowden River Center in East Columbia. Men who walk in for haircuts or trims give their spin on the yes-it's-finally-over O. J. Simpson trial, the coming Million Man March in Washington, as well as women and sports.

The Hair Cutters draws as many as 200 black men and youths a day -- for haircuts and the scene.

During their visits, patrons develop friendships with the owner, eight barbers and other customers. They say the barbers know how to cut their hair just so.

Before the shop moved here from Jessup three years ago, many black males from Columbia went to the barber shop -- or to other shops in Ellicott City, Baltimore or Washington, seeking out salons with black barbers. Others simply cut their own hair or had relatives do it.

"I think it's a shame because I went to high school here," said attorney Chad Dickerson, 28, of Columbia's Village of Dorsey's Search. "Growing up here I had two choices [the Jessup shop or the Ellicott shop], or to go into the city."

At the Hair Cutters, the most requested haircut is the fade -- a slick masculine-style cut -- fuller on top and short on the sides.

Observing a man checking out his fade in a hand mirror, Mrs. Warren said: "Men are vain, you know? I learned that. It was something I didn't know about a black man. I never saw my Dad do that."

Ubiquitous mirrors give them plenty of angles to check.

"It's the best [fade] I've had in 2 years," said Anthony Cornish, 34, who stopped in to get a quick haircut on his lunch break last week.

As the traditional red-white-and-blue barber shop pole twirls in the front window, pictures of black role models decorate the walls. "It's good for the kids to come in and see Martin [Luther King Jr.] and Malcolm [X] on the wall," Mrs. Warren said.

"I like it because it's close to home," said Hans Smith, who moved from New York to Columbia's Owen Brown village. He also likes the shop's friendly environment.

"And the entertainment, too," Mr. Smith added. "There are a lot of funny guys in there."

For example, barber Cedric Benning, 21, walked up to a group of men and asked: "You hear the joke about O. J.?

"O. J. told the judge: 'Now that the verdict is in. I'm going to relax up in the Alps, do a little skiing. But your honor, there's one thing. Can I get my gloves back first?' "

The shop's atmosphere is much different today than it was in the past. Mrs. Warren's father-in-law, Julius R. Warren Sr., opened the shop in 1944 in Jessup. In 1989, Mrs. Warren's husband gave the shop to her as a wedding gift.

In 1992, she left the much smaller shop in Jessup and created something new. "I wanted a clean, professional place for the black man to come."

Some men even request grooming tips from the barbers.

"Men ask how to hide the gray hairs and cover bald spots," said barber Abdul Baqi Omar.

As Mrs. Warren put it, men can be vain.

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