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Bottom Line: Upper Valley barber opens new shop in Hanover, specializing in black hair



Valley News Business Writer
Saturday, October 05, 2019

Two days after Sean Taylor opened his new barbershop in Hanover, customer appointments for haircuts already were double-booked, thanks to a glitch in the online software program.

Taylor has been a barber in the Upper Valley for only four years. But in that short time the Philadelphia native has made a pronounced mark and built a following of customers who seek out his special skills with scissors and clippers.

That’s because Taylor specializes in cutting and styling hair for black people, a clientele who have long experienced difficulty in finding a barber in the Upper Valley.

He is also an entrepreneur in a region that, outside of the Dartmouth enclave, lacks diversity and in a county where the population is 92.7% white and 1.2% black, according to the United States Census Bureau.

Such challenges do not deter Taylor, whose warm nature and optimism comes across as solid as the two gleaming steel and leather-cushioned swivel chairs in his shop.

“I couldn’t ask for a better situation,” he said.

Taylor calls his new barbershop, where he subleases space in Roberts Flowers on the corner of Main and Lebanon streets below Starbucks, The People’s Barber Shop and Shave Parlor. He wants to make it clear he’s catering to every kind of hair, not only that of people of color.

“Everyone is welcome,” Taylor said recently, taking a break between customers as he swept up hair clippings from the floor. “I hope this will be a community space … a chance for people to meet people they’d never come across.”

Taylor, who arrived in the Upper Valley in 2015 to be near his kids who live with their mother, for the past several years had been working out of The River Valley Club at Centerra and was under contract at Dartmouth College to provide haircuts for black students.

Now that he’s established, Taylor said it was time to set up his own barbershop.

He had been looking for space in Hanover in order to be easily accessible for Dartmouth students, although what he first checked out downtown was too expensive (notably neither of the town’s other two barbers are located in street-level spaces).

New, as well as familiar, faces are seeking out Taylor.

Richel Cuyler, an Ohio native who graduated from Dartmouth in 2006 and is now a service manager in the college’s IT department, while sitting in Taylor’s barber chair the other day, said that she knows from personal experience how difficult it is to find someone in the Upper Valley who knows how to care for the textured hair of people of color.

Cuyler, who used to wash and style the hair of black women when she herself was a student at Dartmouth because “there was no hair care for black women in the area,” said that one of the first questions she asked colleagues and alumni when she moved back to the Upper Valley this summer was, “Is there anyone to cut black hair?”

She received good news.

“Thank God there is least one person now,” said Cuyler, as Taylor gently worked the clippers to give Cuyler a detailed, closely cropped haircut. She asked fellow ’06 classmate James Barkley, who coincidentally had walked in and sat down to wait for his turn in Taylor’s barber’s chair, what he thought of her haircut.

“Beautiful!” Barkley marveled.

Barkley, a classics major and now director of advancement data and support services at Dartmouth, said he was a customer of Taylor’s at The River Valley Club but described the difficulty in finding a barber to cut his hair when he was a student.

Until a barber began visiting campus regularly to cut the hair of black students, Barkley said he’d have to wait to get his hair cut until he went home to New Jersey on vacation. Otherwise, the only option was a barber in the Upper Valley without skill and experience in cutting a black person’s hair, which only led to the expected disastrous results.

“I remember being a student and the woman who is cutting my hair was doing it horribly,” Barkley said. It reached a point where his father walked over and “took the clippers from the woman, saying ‘no, no, no …’ ” Barkley related.

Taylor can empathize — when he was training in barber school, all the mannequins students practiced on had straight hair, he said. As a result, many older white barbers lack the proper skill set to cut black people’s hair.

“It’s not that they are bad at cutting hair,” he said.

Barkley said he has other reasons beside Taylor’s skill to patronize his barbershop.

“It’s really cool to see a black entrepreneur in the Upper Valley,” he said as Taylor brought over a hot towel to wrap Barkley’s head following a shave with a straight razor around the hairline on the back of his neck.

“My son sees that, too,” he said. “It’s exciting and encouraging.”

Taylor charges $33 for an adult haircut, ($25 for kids and seniors), $20 for a “shape up,” $10 for a beard trim and $40 for a “straight razor shave.” Those prices appear to be agreeable to his customers.

On Thursday, he had 17 customers and with the glitch in the online appointment booking program resolved, not one was doubled-booked.

Puppies and protein in White River Junction

The roster of new business tenants is filling out at real estate developer Mike Davidson’s conversion of the former Kibby Equipment buildings across from Hartford Town Hall in White River Junction.

The new storefronts will be Aimee Goodwin’s dog rescue and education project, Puppy Junction, which will occupy the west building, and Royal Nutrition, which will occupy the east building in space adjacent to Brian Barthelmes’ Standard Company Tattoo body art studio.

Goodwin was initially going to open Puppy Junction in space adjacent to Main Street Furniture at the corner of North Main Street and Bridge Street in White River Junction, but negotiations with the building’s owner, she said, “hit an impasse,” so she pivoted to Davidson’s redevelopment project across the railroad tracks.

As reported, Goodwin’s Puppy Junction will provide her nonprofit Student Rescue Project with a space for the public and prospective pet adopters to meet rescued dogs that are being fostered in Upper Valley homes (there will be no overnight kenneling at the location). The storefront at 101 Maple St. also will serve as a meeting place for people to volunteer and learn about her program that rescues dogs off the streets and places them in homes.

Royal Nutrition, at 87 Maple St., is owned by Jessica Gramling, of White River Junction, which she said will be a health bar serving “nutritious meal replacement shakes and energizing teas.” The storefront is modeled after Jody Lynch’s Nutrition on the Green in Lebanon, where Gramling said she was first a customer and now has been working the past few months.

Both stores exclusively buy their protein shake and tea supplies through Herbalife, Gramling said.

Tim Sidore, the point man and property manager for the frequently-abroad Davidson, said via email that “we are negotiations with a few different potential tenants for the remaining spaces at 87 Maple,” and “we have some flexibility depending on a potential tenant’s needs.”

He also said Execusuite is “in the design phase” to add nine “loft apartments” to a section of 101 Maple.

The mixed-use plan is probably a good idea. Retail businesses come and go. But an apartment — especially in the chronically underhoused Upper Valley — is forever.

Comings & goings …

Apparel retailer J. McLaughlin is now open in the former Dartmouth Bookstore space on South Main Street in Hanover. The new store’s general manager is Jennifer Dunham, of Hanover, who previously managed a Petco store in Virginia … As expected, Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs has filed a motion to dismiss the second amended class action lawsuit backed by the PETA Foundation alleging the Grafton County organic egg marketing and distribution company misleads the public in advertising over how its “certified humane” hens are treated at the company’s contracted hen farms. The 26-page motion argues that the plaintiffs — a group of consumers in six states who bought Pete and Gerry’s eggs — have failed “to identify any objective, untrue statements that could support” their claims about ill treatment of hens. The motion also seeks to throw out any claims alleged by plaintiffs who do not reside in New York State because the New York federal court where the suit was filed “lacks personal jurisdiction” in the matter. Here’s predicting this lawsuit will be going on for awhile … Score Upper Valley, which helps small business owners get their business idea off the ground, is offering a first from the group: a workshop on how to open your own franchise business. The three-hour Oct. 10 class will cover “all aspects of franchising, positive & negative,” Score said. Google “Score Upper Valley” for details.

Let me know your business news. John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.