CommunityLife and Arts

A (Hair) Cut Above the Rest

Humming electric clippers and thumping rap beats fill the room. A man with a coiled crown of hair reclines on a leather chair to get comfortable because getting braids can be a lengthy process. The sweet smells of warm shea butter lend a sense of comfort to soften the man’s head.

“In Black culture, we’re very picky about our barbers,” said Jordan Eagans, a Eureka resident. “This is the only spot I’ll come to let anyone touch my hair.”

As a regular client at Sanders Grooming Lounge and Supply (219 2nd Street in Eureka), Eagans frequents the shop on a monthly basis to see his barber and shop owner, Shay Sanders, for any hair braiding needs.

“I think we’re going on two years now,” said Eagans. “Every month, she hooks me up.”

Grass Roots

Initially, Shay began cutting hair as a hobby after moving from the Orlando area of Florida nearly 10 years ago. Taking cues from the landscaping business ran by her late grandfather, Bobby Sanders, she wanted to start her own business.

“I’m all about community building… I’m only one person. We can’t serve everybody and so we have to network with other people… We’re all a community together, so the more the merrier.”

“When I came to Humboldt, I was trying to figure out how I could establish myself,” said Shay. “I always wanted to be like my grandfather. He owned his own business named Sanders Lawn Service but he wouldn’t let me take over because I was a lady. He didn’t feel like ladies should be outside in the hot Florida sun.”

Despite his objections, however, Shay drew inspiration from her grandfather’s words.

“It came to me while I was mowing the lawn,” said Shay. “Instead of cutting grass, I decided to cut hair.”

Humboldt Beginnings

After receiving her professional cosmetology license, Shay started Sanders Grooming Lounge in late 2015 with the help of her wife Laurie Sanders and barber Matt Garcia. Since opening the shop, Shay has seen an increase in business as well as a need to accommodate more customers by hiring J.B., an additional barber, and has even taken on her wife as a full-time manager.

“She needed me here full time so I quit my job to help support her and build her business,” said Laurie.

For some community members, finding the right barbershop to get a clean cut can be challenging, especially in the north coast. As a business that is largely dependent on establishing a clientele base, the hope is to draw more clients in by expanding its stylists.

“I came here to get a cut by one of the best barbers in Eureka, California,” said Wayne Polk, a resident of Eureka.

“I’ve consistently been with J.B since I first moved up here sixteen months ago. It’s kind of hard to find a good barber. Once you find that good barber, you know I’m gonna stick with him. I don’t plan on going anywhere else.”

More than just a haircut

The business also doubles as a hair supply shop. Whether it’s extensions and braids or hair care products, the lounge is stocked. The lounge also makes an effort to serve everyone who makes their way inside.

“I serve all kinds of people,” said Shay. “Male, female, non binary, short hair, long hair, braids, curly hair, straight hair, anyone and everybody. You’ll see them coming through my chair.” As one of the few Black women owned salon and supply shops in Humboldt County, Shay hopes to build community with everyone and see more support for other businesses.

“I’m all about community building,” said Shay. “I’m only one person. We can’t serve everybody and so we have to network with other people. … We’re all a community together, so the more the merrier.”

According to Tanza Triggs, Associate Dean for Student Engagement and Leadership, there is hope to have more resources available for students at Humboldt State University (HSU) who may be having a difficult time having their hair care needs met.

“Why not have some pop ups on campus and be able to have students come get a cut or a style?” said Triggs. “[Shay is] trying to connect to the university. She’s aware of the needs of the African American students but the great thing about her shop is that they do everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re a person of color, they’re gonna find a way to help you out.”

However, the chance of having Shay or other hair stylists come to campus will take some concerted effort with both Triggs and HSU’s Risk Management and Safety Services to make it a reality.

“It’s all of our responsibility to address the needs of students,” said Triggs. “In my opinion, Shay could fulfill that need, especially for students of color…. I’m still gonna try to make it work, it’s just gonna take some effort.”

Regardless, Shay plans on building positive connections with anyone who walks through the doors, one cut at a time.

“What I do isn’t just to cut their hair,” said Shay. “Your barber is also your therapist, your family, your everything…. The greatest experience is when I’m giving all this love and they turn around and they feel it…. That’s everything to me, more than the money really.”

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