When Ja’Mal Gilmore first moved to Boulder, Colorado, 19 years ago, he didn’t think he could cut hair here. “I came here and I witnessed there was not a lot of urban people. Not just black people, but urban people. There was the mountain folks, and the country folks. I didn’t think I would cut hair here.” But that changed one day when someone else recognized his calling.
“I was working at Illegal Pete’s, and next door there was a place called Paul Morrison Colors. And there was a stylist there, and I cut her hair. The owner came over to me and said what are you doing bartending and serving burritos? You should have a life in hairstyling, you obviously have some talent in it.”
Now, The Brooklyn Barber Academy is entering its third year. Its previous space, which was off a small shopping center at the corner of 28th and Valmont, exuded a polished, hip vibe, with stacks of Wired magazines and The New Yorker on the waiting table and funk and MoTown playing from the speakers.
Ja’Mal, who is black, worked for years to establish the place. It was a long road, both emotionally and financially. “Call me what you want but I have every black man’s issue. No process, no collateral, and no ability for either of those.”
Instead, he put $70,000 of his own money into the shop. He worked with the landlord on the building’s faulty infrastructure. And last year, he put in a granite bar. “I said, we’re going to really finish this place out, be here for 10, 20 years.”
But his landlord, Andrew Ghadimi of Emerald Management, had other ideas. He didn’t seem to want to engage with Ja’Mal or the space. “They don’t find value in me. They don’t know who I am, really. They own a building in which there’s a barbershop…they go to another barbershop in a building they don’t own.” In October, without telling Ja’Mal, he invited potential owners of a wine bar into the space.
Those owners also own Trueman Barber Co., on Pearl Street Mall–a particularly hurtful turn of events, because Ja’Mal had sent them a number of customers over the years. Then Ghadimi told Ja’Mal that he wouldn’t be renewing his lease. In other words, Ja’Mal would have to leave the space by March, and lose $35,000 in the bargain.
“Value. The landlord doesn’t see value in us. He sees value in a wine bar. The dude is young! He’s young, and I get it. He’s not worried about his employees, his employees’ families. He doesn’t worry about the families around this business.”
Andrew Ghadimi, the landlord, told The Daily Camera that he wanted a “public space” in his building with some kind of food and beverage, and a “young, up-and-coming crowd.” Ghadimi told KGNU via email that the lease signing with the perspective tenant was completely unrelated with Brooklyn Barber Academy’s decision to vacate.
“The perspective tenant had already been assigned to another unit within the shopping center when we began negotiations for Ja’Mal’s new lease. It was only after we informed Ja’Mal that we could not sign a lease in his existing space, and Ja’Mal expressed enthusiasm about moving to the front unit, that we negotiated a lease with the perspective tenants for the space that currently occupies the Brooklyn Barber Academy. We were in the process of negotiating the terms of his rent with his broker when the article in the Daily Camera was published and communications and negotiations ceased. It is disappointing that we were not given the opportunity to reach an agreement, as it was always our intention to maintain the Brooklyn Barber Academy within the shopping center. It is through the article that we were informed that the Brooklyn Barber Academy would be leaving the shopping center. We are disappointed to have lost the Brooklyn Barber Academy as a tenant; their business added not only to our shopping center’s diverse character, but to Boulder community’s as well.”
Gilmore sees it as in issue that will have a significant impact on the community he serves, both people of color and others who don’t always find their needs met in majority-white Boulder.
“I take care of the queer community. I make no qualms about that. If you want to be a he and you started out as a she…I’ll make that happen.”
For a lot of Ja’Mal’s community, The Brooklyn Barber Academy is one of the few places where they can trust they’ll be taken care of. Stephan Lancaster, one of the patrons at the Brooklyn Barber, brings his wife and both his kids here.
“For my family, to find a place where you have a white mom with long hair that always wants to have it styled up, to the thirteen-year-old who has a good mix between her hair and my hair, and then my next son, and then you have my hair, which is just a black man’s hair–to be able to come to a single place–that’s amazing. We used to go to four places for that.”
To Ja’Mal, he’s not just providing a haircut. He’s providing his patrons a place to be listened to and be vulnerable. He’s teaching kids who look different how to take care of themselves, and how to be confident in their looks. It’s a big deal, especially in Boulder, which is just 11 percent People of Color and 1 percent Black.
“They are familiar with the Michelle Obamas of the world. But there are the other turns…the non-polished Michelle Obamas that aren’t accepted in the limelight like that.”
A gofundme account was established to help Ja’Mal with the cost of moving. The new location will open on March 11th on Lee Hill and 28th streets (opposite Gateway) where Ja’Mal hopes to open a community space for young people of color to learn trade skills and feel safe and welcome. Ja’Mal Gilmore is also a DJ on KGNU’s Gospel Chime Hour and Eclipse.