When it comes to cutting and styling hair, the barbers at Game Time Experience and Groom Zone Barbershop don’t play around.
But the customers are certainly welcome to.
A bank of 20 Microsoft Xbox and Sony PlayStation video game consoles and bounce houses fill about half of the 5,000-square-foot facility at Broadway and Lathrop Street on the city’s East Side. In addition to a small takeout restaurant, the rest of the premises provides space for a row of stylist chairs and barber stations opposite table boards and card tables, a TV area and shelves of periodicals.
“In the midst of the wait [for a haircut], we wanted to do something that would be entertaining for the client,” said barber Antoine Bradley, who likes to refer to himself as a precision hairstylist.
However, the shop/arcade is about more than offering clients a haircut and entertainment, according to businessman Michael Jackson.
He envisions his establishment as a place where boys and young men in the neighborhood can establish mentorships with adults who work there and provide job training for those who might be interested in becoming barbers. It has been open since last summer.
“I didn’t want a normal barbershop. I wanted it to be more interactive,” said Jackson, who explained that he wanted to make his establishment a safe haven for youth and a place they could absorb positive values.
“We don’t allow the kids to come in during the school hours,” Jackson said. With a fee of $10 for 90 minutes of play, he’s also seeking to establish a rewards program as an incentive for some of his young patrons to improve their school attendance and academic standing.
“If they [improve] their attendance, we’ll give them an hour of free [play] time here,” said Jackson.
“We’re also looking for sponsors. It’s statistically known that kids get in trouble ... around 7 [or] 8 o’clock to midnight on the weekends. So we’re asking the businesses to sponsor a kid for an hour [or] sponsor a kid for two hours on the weekend, so they’ll be in a safe place instead of being somewhere they shouldn’t be,” he added.
Jackson, a recovering alcoholic, has his own incentives for wanting to reach youth. The father of six wants to help youths avoid the mistakes that he made earlier in his life.
“I went to Riverside High [and] played [basket]ball there and got a scholarship. I played for Canisius [College] for a couple of years. I played with Ray Hall and Mike Smrek. We made it to the [National Invitation Tournament],” Jackson said. “I also got into drinking and gambling and things of that nature, and got myself caught up in going to jail.”
Jackson turned his life around when he decided to get sober and pursue his own business. He seeks to encourage others to do the same. He tells them: “Don’t be afraid of the word ‘business.’ ”
To help him reach youths, Jackson has enlisted retired teacher Bob Bell and the Rev. Charles Walker of the nearby Mount Hope Community Church on Broadway.
The Groom Zone barbers also play their part by mentoring youths who patronize the business.
“We talk about education, current events, school, future endeavors,” said Bradley.
“We also offer an apprenticeship program that’s geared toward the young men that want to do something positive with their lives. ... Instead of looking at barbering as a hustle, it’s actually a career,” he added.
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