NEWS

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January 23, 2009

Neighborhood cheers one of their own on Inauguration Day

Of the more than 30 people watching Barack Obama’s inaugural address from Hyde Park Hair Salon Tuesday morning, only two or three were customers.

Most of the crowd at the barbershop now famous for its service to the 44th president represented organizations such as CLTV, WGN Radio, the Associated Press, and The Wall Street Journal. In a neighborhood where nearly every local business seems to have an Obama story to tell, inauguration day gave journalists, out-of-towners, and residents alike the chance to revel in the haunts of Obama’s pre-presidential days.

While Obama’s barber Zariff took in the inauguration from the National Mall, his co-worker Tony Coye tended to the shop’s customers between interviews. Coye said an average of two or three people a day come in asking for the same cut Obama gets.

“I have a client coming in today—her hair is down to her butt,” Coye said. “She’s getting an Obama cut.”

Mario, a regular to the barbershop and a DJ for WHPK, watched notables file onto the Mall on one of the shop’s two flat-screen TVs. He said he had not intended for his salon appointment to coincide with the Inauguration.

“I missed my haircut date this weekend,” he said. “But it works for me—I get to watch it on hi-def, so I’m cool.”

Mario had his own inauguration special to host on WHPK after the haircut.

“I’ve been trying to get [Obama] to be a guest on my show for the last seven years,” he said.

With seven television stations in attendance, Valois Cafeteria celebrated the inauguration by serving a special menu and giving away 500 free Obama mugs. The morning after Obama’s November victory, Valois served customers for free until they ran out of food at 11 a.m.

Owner Sam Argiris, who remembers Obama’s first visits in the early ’80s, has grown used to his restaurant being a part of history.

“I believe this is the place Senator Mosely Braun started,” he said, motioning toward a table behind him. “And she was the first black woman to become senator. So after that, I believe everything.”

Though he was offered the chance to attend the inauguration, Argiris turned down the coveted tickets and stayed local on January 20.

“I was debating…but it’s better this way,” he said. “I’ve been here 40 years at this place. So I grew up with most of the people who eat here. I like to do something to celebrate with the people I grew up with.”

Valois prepared to serve up to 3,000 meals on Tuesday morning, but it wasn’t the only local fixture benefiting from an Obama connection.

Cheryl Crawford, manager at Italian Fiesta Pizzeria, said business went up at least 25 percent after the shop gained fame for serving Obama’s preferred pies. Once the news reached chefs at Washington’s Ritz Carlton hotel, they invited shop owner Patti Harris-Tubbs to fly to the capital and make her pizzas for the inauguration.

Despite her enthusiasm for the new president, Crawford had no regrets about coming to work on Tuesday.

“We’re here selling his favorite pizzas,” she said, smiling.

Kevin Crowley, assistant manager of the Walgreens in the Hyde Park Shopping Center, did take the day off to enjoy the festivities. Labeled “Barack Obama’s Headquarters!” by the scrolling sign outside the store, Crowley’s Walgreens has remained well-stocked with Obama merchandise since Dreams of My Father was published.

After the Obamas had dropped off some photos for development several years ago, Crowley remembers hearing a photo clerk say, “Barack Obama? What kind of name is that?” Now, Crowley says that name has put Chicago at the center of the world.

“It’s like when the Bulls had Michael Jordan,” he said. “This is even bigger.”

Dashrath Patel, owner of the newsstand on the corner of East 53rd Street and South Lake Park Avenue for 17 years, buys 300 newspapers on a typical day. For the day after the inauguration, he had 10,000 copies on order.

“Obama was my customer, too,” Patel said. “Every day he bought five newspapers.”

At 57th Street Books, employees refer to an “Obama bump” in sales due to outside interest in the president’s neighborhood. Special events coordinator Tom Flynn has been awash with requests to host author talks and signings for the latest Obama-related tomes.

But on Inauguration Day, the bookstore that coordinated a signing and public appearance for The Audacity of Hope chose to celebrate by accepting donations to the Hyde Park and Kenwood Hunger Programs.

“We…thought it would be appropriate, given what—now President—Obama’s call to action has been,” Flynn said.

Flynn also feels the neighborhood is getting too “Obama-ed out” to put on an event for every new biography or retrospective published about the president.

“Everyone kind of knows the story at this point, especially around here,” Flynn said. “So I’m sure people would be happy to buy the book, but for coming to the event there’s not really as much interest.”

Still, Flynn feels the Obama craze will last as long as media coverage of the neighborhood continues.

“I grew up here, so just the idea of someone from Hyde Park becoming president is neat,” he said.

While Hyde Park Hair Salon was one of the hubs of Inaugural celebration in the neighborhood, Coye, the barber, felt that the moment did not belong to Hyde Park in particular.

“I’m happy that he’s there, that he’s having this experience for the rest of us—and not just for Chicago,” Coye said of the shop’s most famous client. “He’s an ordinary guy, not raised into politics…. He’s one of us, and he became president.”