Barber Kings, a well-known barber shop on MLK Boulevard in Chattanooga, Tenn., creates a space where area neighborhoods find community.
Established in 2013 by owner Victor Bronson, Barber Kings has been a place where the people of the MLK Neighborhood Association frequent on a daily basis.
Not only can people walk in to receive a professional cut or shave from one of their barbers, they can also come in to spend hours of time with their neighbors.
According to Master Barber Chris Palmer, Barber Kings is a place to not only receive a good haircut, but also a good conversation. By growing up spending time in barber shops himself, Palmer understands the effect a barber shop can have on people.
“As a kid, going to the barber shop was like going on a field trip. It was a place to sit and listen, to have conversations with the barber and the people who lived in this community,” Palmer said.
By having a personal experience and understanding of the effects a barber shop can have on someone, Palmer and the other barbers work hard to make this shop a place for community.
“We try to make this a place where boys can learn how to become young men,” Palmer said, “We want to be there to help mentor the children that come and sit in our chairs.”
Even with all of their passion for their work and the people they encounter, Barber Kings recently changed locations due to the gentrification of MLK Boulevard.
The landscape of MLK and the neighborhood has drastically changed over the years. What used to be a street made up of predominantly black business owners has been flooded with people from the nearby neighborhoods and has changed to appeal and conform to a younger, middle-class taste.
These changes have allowed new shops, bars and restaurants to open up along MLK Boulevard as well as allow more college students, tourists and locals enjoy what this part of Chattanooga has to offer. The new businesses like OddStory Brewing Company, 2 Sons Kitchen and Market, Hutton & Smith Brewing, and The Camp House to name a few, fall under the category of change on this street. Unfortunately, because of this change, Barber Kings could no longer stay in their previous location on MLK.
With these changes, Barber Kings had to face the choice of leaving a neighborhood they had spent years building a community with or work hard to stay and continue being involved with their neighborhood.
The shop ended up remaining on MLK, but changing locations to a little ways down the road. Barber Kings is currently located next door to Hutton & Smith Brewing and across the street from Champy’s Restaurant at 517 East Martin Luther King Boulevard.
Having been around this community for many years, the barbers have seen shops come and go. They are aware of these changes, but they are prepared to face them together and adapt how they see fit.
“I know lots of families who have moved out of this neighborhood. They talk about the way things used to be around here, how it made them strong,” Palmer said.
By seeing other businesses let these changes move them out, Palmer and the shop understand how different this neighborhood used to be. However, it is also important to them to be a part of this newly formed community inhabiting the neighborhood.
“These are the streets that musicians like Bessie Smith and James Brown used to roam. As this neighborhood experiences a shift from gentrification, it’s important to us to be an example for other ethnic owned businesses in this community. We don’t want to lose that history,” Palmer said.
Barber Kings is a business that does not let gentrification force them out of a place they call home. These barbers and this company represent strength, community and history in an important part of the city of Chattanooga.
Meet the Storytellers:
Troy Stolt is a student photojournalist based out of Chattanooga Tennessee, where he is the photo editor of the UTC student newspaper, the University Echo, he has experience covering news, sports, in the creation of multimedia, studio portraits as well as making featured photos. His work has also been published University relations, Nooga.com, and the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Abigail Frazier is a senior communications major at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She works for the student newspaper, The University Echo, as the News Editor. Frazier hopes to pursue print journalism or an online publication in News Media.
Jessica Boggs, Senior at UTC, is pursuing a degree in Communication and minoring in International Relations. She is an experienced international photojournalist as well as feature photographer for The Echo. Jessica is passionate about speaking for those without a voice through the lens of a camera.
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