A Cut Above 

Charleston shop nominated for a Steve Harvey Morning Show Hoodie Award

Even though Alonzo "Hamp" Hamilton should be a nervous wreck right now — biting nails, pulling hair, pacing back and forth across the room — he's as a calm as a meditation-loving Shaolin monk who just chased two Xanax with a glass of warm milk. The fact that the thousands of listeners of The Steve Harvey Morning Show are currently casting votes to decide which is the best barbershop in America doesn't seem to faze him — even though his shop, Blades Professional Barbering, is of one of the four nominees.

And for a guy who wields a pair of clippers for a living, that's a good thing. No one wants some jittery Barney Fife type cutting their hair. Sorry about that nick, sir. I hope you really didn't need that ear. Is there a doctor in the house? Yeah, it's a good thing that Hamilton can keep his cool.

For the fifth year in a row, The Steve Harvey Show will hold the Hoodie Awards, a star-studded affair highlighting businesses and leaders in the black community. At the ceremony, presenters such as Harvey's fellow King Cedric the Entertainer, K-Ville's Anthony Anderson, Charm School's Mo'Nique, ESPN's Stephen A. Smith and others, will hand out awards for best church, fried chicken place, car wash, barbecue place, and church choir. Take that Mr. Nobel.

The idea of this one-of-a-kind awards show was cooked up by Harvey and the producer of his show, Rushion McDonald. "The Hoodie Awards is an award show for the people," the pair said in a statement released to Charleston City Paper. "We are very happy to acknowledge everyday business owners and community leaders for their outstanding contributions to their communities."

Last month, Harvey listeners — and non-listeners too — nominated their faves, with the top four votegetters in each category advancing to the next round. Since Sept. 10, Harvey and his cohorts have been hosting daily votes for each category. Today, everyone's voting for best barbershop. And right now, during the noontime hour, six hours after the voting began and six hours before it ends, Hamilton and his business partner Charlton "Ace" Manigault are well aware that all they can do is wait. And they'll be waiting for quite some time.

"The funny thing about this is we won't even learn about it until we go to Vegas," Hamilton says, at his Meeting Street shop where black-and-white drawings of Bob Marley, Tupac Shakur, Miles Davis, and Al Pacino in Scarface mode adorn the walls. Winners of the 2007 Hoodie Awards will be announced Oct. 20 at The Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. "If we win, that's just a reflection of how people feel about us."

True, true. But the feeling goes both ways. Hamilton and Manigault haven't just earned themselves a place in the community because they know how to give what they say are "the sharpest tapelines in town" and how to use "old school barbering techniques to bring out their client's individual swagger," it's because they play a much more vital role than that of personal groomer. Helping people look all swanky for the weekend —not to mention those Sunday mornings at church — is one thing, helping save lives is another.

Blades has long made AIDS education one of its missions, even going so far as handing out condoms and pamphlets to customers, from G-Unit-loving young whippersnappers to crazy-for-Coltrane granddads. Imagine a tony salon for the caviar-and-carats set on Rodeo Drive doing that? OK. Now keep imagining.

"Look around here. You get a lot of young brothers in here who might not get the advice that other people might get at home. We try to play that role. We try to have that conversation," Hamilton says. "There was a time we packaged everything up [condoms, information pamphlets] and just handed them out."

Since they opened, the barbershop has also held voter registration drives, but it's not about making sure everyone in the community is signed up to vote on election day — or to be turned away at the polls by GOP goon squads, not like that kind of thing has ever happened before. "If we can register two or three, it's a plus for us," the barber says.

But while Hamilton routinely encourages those in the community to vote, it's something that he hasn't done in this particular election, the one that will have the most immediate impact on his life — well, at least not yet. "We'll probably vote before six o'clock," he says.

Of course, that relaxed attitude doesn't mean Hamilton and his business partner aren't interested in winning a Hoodie. They are. In fact, they joined forces with a North Charleston business, which is also nominated for a Hoodie (the shop: It's All in the Cut Salon; the award: Best Salon).

The two businesses are distributing double-sided post cards — the glossy kind that are frequently used to advertise concerts in the black community — soliciting support from their customers and the good people at large.

For Keya Neal, owner of It's All in the Cut Salon, partnering with Blades made sense — a single postcard has two sides after all. The two sets of owners had something else more important in common. "They have the same values, the same work ethic," Neal says.

That said, both Neal and Hamilton are looking forward to that trip to Las Vegas in October when they'll find out if they're the best in the hood.


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