Aleanna Siacon Detroit Free Press
Published 6:40 PM EDT Apr 20, 2019
Despite a heavy downpour on Saturday, families filled chairs at Little Willie’s Hair Salon on Grand River Avenue in Detroit — hot combs were plugged in, and the sound of electric razors buzzing blended into the room full of chatter.
Rain or shine, Sunday’s absolute best is expected for Easter.
Smiling as he stood amid counters packed to the edges with styling tools and hair products, owner Willie Robinson, 62, greeted people getting buzzed in as he did some magic with a curling iron.
“Unfortunately, the rain kind of slowed things up a little bit, but normally it’d be standing room only,” Robinson said as noon approached, adding that he’d seen about 30 people since opening at 7:30 a.m.
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A longtime hair stylist, Robinson has owned the yellow shop on Grand River Avenue for more than 30 years.
Family members that span generations have been stopping by Little Willie’s for a long time, but Robinson said he typically sees about a 30% spike in customers around the holidays — namely, Easter and Christmas. In the black community, salons and barber shops fill with people of all ages getting special styles as Easter Sunday approaches. It’s tradition.
“A community comes out, because on (Easter) we have a lot of people who haven’t been to church all year, and they can’t go to church on a better day than the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” Robinson said. “I’m kind of glad that they do come out because of that.”
Robinson added that a kid’s cut can cost around $15, increasing to $45 for a wash and styling. Men’s cuts and styling typically runs $20. For women, color alone costs $25, but additional styling is another $45.
A family affair
It’s a small shop, but a busy scene. Kids sit with their grandmas, mothers join their daughters, and dads get trims too. Folks laugh, catch up, and a woman shows off the salmon salad she cooked up.
Little Willie’s caters to all ages, doing everything from braids and hair weaves to relaxer and basic trims.
“Mainly on Easter time you have more kids come by to get little press and curls, spiral curls,” Robinson said.
After getting her Easter hair done by stylist Nicora Lile, 7-year-old Chyna Fenderson, of Detroit, smiled, happy about the new ribbons put in.
“Yellow and white!” Chyna told the Free Press, adding that she likes the look a lot. Her grandmother, Linda Crowther of Southfield, picked out the look.
“I like the old, traditional style with the curls and the bows,” Crowther said, sitting with Chyna’s 6-year-old brother, Chayse Fenderson, who waited for his turn.
Crowther explained that both kids will be wearing yellow this year.
“We always try to match them in the same colors,” she said.
While the family is Baptist and goes to church regularly, Crowther said the kids are excited to look extra special for Easter — it’s tradition.
“They’ve been doing it ever since they were first born, it’s a traditional thing. My parents did it for us, I did it for my children, and now this is the third generation of them,” she said.
Coincidentally, the family will also be celebrating Crowther’s mother’s 88th birthday this weekend with a family dinner outing.
In Suite No. 9 of L. Swygert’s at 19445 Livernois, natural hair specialist Arlinda Sanderson, 32, carefully worked customer Andrea Benson’s hair into twists.
While wanting to look great for Easter, Benson, 35, of Detroit, said that opting for a protective style for Sunday is a part of contending with her natural-hair journey.
Protective styles are described on NaturallyCurly.com as those that “don’t consist of the hair being out loose, which is where the ‘protective’ part comes in… When you wear your ends tucked away, your hair is in a protective style. This is important because your ends are the oldest and most fragile part of the strand.”
After straightening her hair for years and just getting it cut over the past year, Benson said she’s still in the growth phase and figuring out what styles and what kind of care work best for her.
“I’m still learning about what I like, and what doesn’t work,” she said, adding that she’s entered a phase where she wants to grow her hair out, but it’s reached a length where she doesn’t always know how to manage or maintain it.
“(My hair) wasn’t really a thought on what I want to wear for Easter. … I just want to take a break, and it’s getting warmer outside. Twisting my hair, putting it in like a protective style gives me a little bit more relief in the day-to-day needs of my hair.”
Sanderson said that there’s a big emphasis on getting dressed up for the holidays, and it’s at times like Easter and Christmas when a lot of people become especially particular about what their hair looks like.
“Easter is a big thing for us,” Sanderson said. “You go and get new outfits and new hair… Everything.”
Sanderson said she’s seen more and more women opt for natural styles, adding that it’s been more than just a natural hair movement, but “an acceptance.”
“I seldom see people get relaxers unless they wear really short, like pixie-cut looks. For the most part, most women are embracing their natural hair — which I think is a great thing, because I think it’s a part of you loving and accepting yourself as you fully are,” she said.
Sanderson added that the options for styles are endless, from twists and braids to sew-ins, but it’s important for women to figure out what works for them.
“Natural hair is not care-free hair. Natural hair is something that desires your love and your patience,” she said. “Everybody’s natural hair is so unique, no two curl patterns are the same, so in embracing your own natural hair, it’s a process of you just coming into self.”
However, Sanderson said, she understands how times of the year where families come together can be stressful when it comes to hair.
For women who are currently growing their natural hair out, Sanderson said she believes it’s more about finding products that work, rather than trying to style it a certain way.
Benson added that working with Sanderson, she has gotten around to embracing whatever her hair wants to do for the day.
“You know what, be confident and comfortable, and don’t look to your hair as the thing that defines… you,” she said.
Benson added that she’s excited to see her family on Sunday, because she doesn’t get twists often, and her sister also wears her hair naturally. So, hair has become a point of conversation.
“Whenever I show up with a new style, my family’s like, ‘Oh I love it,’ or ‘It’s cute,'” she said. “It’s a nice conversation piece, and especially if people like it, then they’re just, ‘Who’d you go to, I want my hair done like that.’ It’s a way to bring people together I think.”
Prices for women at L. Swygert vary based on the service. However, as for Sanderson’s natural hair services, a variety of twist sets can run at $85 or more and loc maintenance can cost about $60 and up for 150 minutes. More pricing information can be found at her StyleSeat website.
Men’s and kids’ cuts
Larry Swygert, who owns the collection of L. Swygert salons on Livernois, said the process of getting ready for Easter as a kid is something he still remembers: getting a hair cut, putting on a little suit and heading to church for time with his family.
Swygert said there are always a lot of people who come out to make sure they’re “looking pretty” before seeing their families at church and parties, so his six salons on Livernois try to cover all the bases for clients — everything from men’s hair and care at the Gentleman’s Quarters to women’s hair, kid’s hair, nails, make-up and more at the other salons.
Swygert’s godson, Ke’Chon Wheaton of Detroit, who will be turning 36 Sunday, carefully lined up customer Kevon Moss’s beard with a straight razor at the Gentleman’s Quarters.
“Oh if you’re not getting a razor line, you’re not getting a hair cut,” Wheaton said.
Wheaton said beards are very in-style right now, so many have been coming in to look clean for tomorrow. He added that his full-service option also includes a facial, in addition to a cut, wash and beard trim.
“I just see people coming in particularly to get a clean cut to go with their clean outfit that they’re going to be rocking tomorrow on Easter,” said Miles Miller of Detroit, who also works at the L. Swygert Gentleman’s Quarters said.
“It feels good to look good on a holiday.”
Swygert said a basic cut for men can go for $20, but a full-service package, including a facial could run between $60 and $70.
Other staple family barber shops and salons who specialize in catering to Detroit’s black community were also managing an expected, but constant flow of customers Saturday morning.
G’s on The River Barber Shop, at 12234 Grand River, had kids packed side-by-side on the shop’s couches, hanging out by the television as they waited for their turns. The special for the day was free cuts for kids ages 13 and under.
Owner Gary Pumphrey said there are always more customers around holidays like Easter, so one of the barbers in his shop, Ryan Jones, came up with the idea to offer free kids’ cuts with local rapper Pablo Skywalkin.
“It’s a lot at one time,” Pumphrey added.
Jones, 40, of Detroit, said that while the younger kids aren’t too particular about their cuts, it’s nice seeing the older kids get excited about what they look like afterward.
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Contact Aleanna Siacon: [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @AleannaSiacon.
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