After weathering pandemic hardships, Roots Barbershop is starting again from the “Root” up

Jermaine Jackson, owner of Roots Barbershop.Jermaine Jackson has been the owner and operator of Roots Barbershop for nearly 12 years now. Located at 3053 Thomas St., Roots is the only barbershop for blocks and blocks. But it’s a great location for Jackson, and especially the community that he serves. It allows him the opportunity to not only serve his faithful clientele in the Frayser area, but Roots draws customers from Uptown, Bearwater, and New Chicago, as well. 

The COVID-19 pandemic not only directly impacted service providers like Jackson, but also his customers that depend on that service — not to mention the joy they get from visiting a community staple like Roots Barbershop.

“When we were forced to close for about two and a half months, it caught us all off guard,” Jackson says. “It was difficult going without income, and I missed the relationships that have been developed over the years with my customers.”

The economic hardships wrought by the pandemic forced Jackson to rethink how the shop was going to survive financially. The restrictions put in place after the temporary shutdown, like minimizing customers in the building and implementing more time to clean between each client, didn’t help his wallet, either.

Roots Barbershop is located at 3053 Thomas St. in Memphis.
Cutting hair is an upfront and personal service, and Jackson saw people’s comfort levels changing. Before the pandemic, Roots had four barbers, including Jackson. His three barbers working here before the pandemic never returned.

“It’s been kinda scaled down to a one-man studio,” he says.

Making it work

The shift from operating out of a building filled with guys and girls getting made over to less than a handful of people waiting with masks hasn’t been easy — both from a financial and social standpoint. Still, Jackson has found ways to make it work, and there have been some unexpected benefits.

“I’ve been knowing him for 17 years,” says Jaquavis Surney, pictured here in the barber’s chair. “He’s been cutting my hair for that long, and now he’s cutting my kid’s hair.”He explains how the added safety precautions will continue to help stop the spread of COVID-19, as well as other viruses like the flu and common cold. Jackson has also embraced new technologies that make running his business easier, like a scheduling app that allows customers to book their appointments online.  

Fortunately for Jackson, his customers stuck with him, continuing to frequent his business over these past few years. They choose to wait patiently in the shop, or sometimes in their cars. I spoke with longtime customer and friend Jaquavis Surney for some insight from a customer’s perspective.

“I’ve been knowing him for 17 years,” Surney says. “He’s been cutting my hair for that long, and now he’s cutting my kid’s hair.”

As soon as the stay-at-home mandate was implemented, Surney says that Jackson took it very seriously and shut the barbershop down immediately. Surney was one of the recipients of an urgent text message that Jackson sent to all of his customers, explaining the new rules and how they will be strictly enforced.

“What he says goes,” Surney says. “He sticks to his word; that’s why I trust his word.”  

Bigger than business

When I expressed to Jackson that he seems to be a very important staple in the community, he responded humbly. Jackson shared that he has not always been a positive influence in his neighborhood. Although he and his two brothers grew up with both their parents, they were still subject to many hardships.
“Tough times caused me to draw towards the dope game and any other way I could provide for myself what my parents couldn’t,” Jackson says.

As hard as the pandemic has been on businesses like Jackson’s, it also illuminated just how important and unique such a place can be.Like most young men whose environment is wrought with poverty and despair, he participated in illegal activities in order to survive.

“I’m not proud of my past decisions, but as a real man you cannot idly sit by and watch your family suffer and do nothing about it,” he says.

Beyond the business itself, Roots Barbershop is about redemption and having a platform to give back to the neighborhood that helped shape him into the beacon of light he is today. Jackson uses his time cutting younger guys' hair to pour positive seeds into their lives. He hopes to start an official mentoring program right here in the barbershop.

“Our young men need us and I let them know that I am here for them in any way I can,” he says.

As hard as the pandemic has been on businesses like Jackson’s, it also illuminated just how important and unique such a place can be. The customers are patient and enjoy not only the service, but the wisdom in the conversations that go on here. It was great visiting the shop for a few hours because I had the opportunity to witness the loyalty from Jackson’s satisfied clients and participate in a few laughs. 

“If my barbers never return to work here, I’m okay with that. Being a one man show has taught me things that I would not have learned in a crowd,” Jackson says, going on to say that he loves the impact he’s able to make and the community that he’s blessed to be a part of. He is currently seeking new barbers, though. It would be nice to retire one day.

Roots Barbershop is located at 3053 Thomas St. in Memphis.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.