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U of C ousts historic barbershop

Photo: Juliana Pino/The Chicago Maroon
(From left to right) Barbers Darryl Morgan, Naseem Majid, and Abdul Malik give their last few trims at 53rd Street and Blackstone Avenue before Hyde Park Hair Salon moves to an as yet undetermined new location.

For more than 80 years, the Hyde Park Hair Salon has operated out of the same storefront on the corner of East 53rd Street and South Harper Avenue. But on June 30, the barbershop, long a pillar of community life in the neighborhood, will be forced to relocate. The University of Chicago, which currently owns the property, has agreed to sell the building as part of the ongoing commercial development of 53rd Street.

“We purchased this property and are selling it for the same reason: to offer high-quality retail for residents of the neighborhood and members of the University community,” said Hank Webber, University vice president for community affairs.

According to Webber, the University will sell the 53rd Street property to Baum Brothers LLC and Brinshore Development for approximately $2.3 million. The sale is expected to be finalized by June, with construction on the property to begin by September. However, developers must present a final plan to be approved by the University before the sale is finalized.

Tentative plans for the development include both local and national restaurants and clothing retailers. Baum Brothers declined to comment on the development.

While the barbershop has yet to find a new location, its owner hopes to remain in the neighborhood, possibly moving to a location found by the University within several blocks of its current location, Webber said.

Moving may prove difficult, however, since current zoning restrictions require that any barbershop may not be located within 1,000 feet of an existing barbershop. Because of the concentration of barbershops across Hyde Park, the shop will likely need to seek a special-use permit. Webber, who has worked closely with the shop as it seeks a new location, remains hopeful that the special-use permit will easily be granted.

The University has offered assistance to all of the current tenants of the 53rd Street property, but due to its historical significance, special consideration has been given to the barbershop.

Opened in 1926 as Joe’s Barbershop, its barbers have catered to a long list of notable Chicago residents. The list ranges from Muhammad Ali to former Mayor Harold Washington to percussionist Khalil el’Zabar and director Sam Greenlee.

In his memoir, Dreams of My Father, Barack Obama wrote that his first visit to the barbershop was like walking into a history lesson. Obama, who first moved to Hyde Park as a community organizer in 1983, has now become part of that history as he has continued to come into the shop for a trim nearly once a week for the past 20 years.

Despite the rich heritage contained within its current location, Karim flatly refuses the notion that the historical significance of the barbershop will be lost by relocation. “It’s not the building that has made this place historical,” Karim said. “It was the previous owners’ abilities to make the shop an environment where people feel comfortable, and it was the neighborhood itself that have made this place historical.”

Additionally, Karim emphasized that the barbershop is not a casualty of redevelopment and that he had nothing bad to say about the process.

“I love this neighborhood, and I want to see it grow and flourish and become what I remember it was when I first started working here. It’s unfortunate that I have to move, and I don’t want to move…but Hyde Park needs a breath of fresh air,” he said. “I’m not one to believe that a neighborhood can hold pat without new options.”

Webber echoed Karim’s hope for the future of 53rd Street. “The community life of 53rd Street is not nearly as strong as the residential character of the neighborhood. The street has been plagued by a series of problems, but my hope is that the redevelopment of this building will play an important part in revitalizing the commercial aspect of the street,” he said.

Also included in the sale are commercial spaces formerly filled by Supreme Jeweler and the Hyde Park Herald, both of which have already relocated. Other tenants of the building are currently making plans to move. The adjacent movie theater, which has been unoccupied for years, will be demolished as part of the same development.