How this classic barbershop is thriving amidst a changing West Village

David Hardin Jr. is a self-made man. He taught himself how to cut hair and run a business. It's a good story.

But it's also one, like that of many long-time Detroit establishments, overlooked in favor of the new, flashy business, of which there have been many these past several years.

Hardin Jr. owns and operates Heavy Weight Cuts, located on the northern edge of West Village, a neighborhoods that has experienced a surge of new businesses, residents, and visitors.

A bakery. A coffee shop. A trendy restaurant. A wine and charcuterie store. A fitness studio. All of these and more have opened in West Village within the past three or so years, and each has received a lion's share of attention. 

But what about Hardin Jr. and his Heavy Weight Cuts? How does an old school neighborhood barbershop fit into a changing West Village?

Hardin Jr., for one, doesn't seem that worried. More people means more traffic and attention for the neighborhood. People were moving out, but now they're moving in.

"It's gonna bring more business to the area, as well as to me," he says. "I'll also have other people I can talk to and bounce ideas off of because for so long I was here by myself.

"It kinda felt like [the neighborhood] wasn't going anywhere. I was still getting business, but it just seemed like the area was going down, there wasn't anything going on around here. Having different businesses come back to the area, it was a welcome reprieve because that meant there's a focus on the area and it's gonna flourish again."

Hardin Jr. cuts a customers' hair

Customers wait for their hair to be cut
He enjoys standing behind the barber chair and sharing information with customers, recommending contractors for this project or that. Hardin Jr. also believes that more attention on West Village means that it will help him spread his message to the community.

"The more people there are, the more people I have to listen to me," he says.

Hardin Jr. owns his building, so he doesn't have to worry about someone raising his rent, though taxes remain a concern. He also recently learned that his building is part of a historic district, which means he needs approval for improvements to the façade. He's currently looking for grants to help renovate the building.

On his 12th birthday, Hardin Jr. asked for a pair of clippers and never looked back. He's been cutting hair ever since. 

"What led me to being a barber was getting my hair cut by my mother and her messing it up," Hardin Jr. says. 

"If I'm gonna walk around with a jacked up haircut, it might as well be by me."

Hardin Jr. started going to barbershops, watching the other barbers and studying them, picking up bits of information to go home with, where he'd practice on himself in the mirror. Then he started cutting his brothers' and cousins' hair. Eventually he was cutting hair for the kids in the neighborhood.

He came to work as an employee at Heavy Weight Cuts in the late 1990s. The shop was located on Jefferson Avenue back then, under different ownership. Eventually the shop would move to its current location on Kercheval Avenue. Around 2006, the owner at the time decided to sell and gave her employees first dibs on purchasing the business. Hardin Jr. says he was the only one who expressed interest.

It wasn't always his dream to own a business, but it soon became a passion. And with an established base of customers, running Heavy Weight Cuts went smoothly at first.

"This area is full of customers," Hardin Jr. says. "I started to realize that either people like us or this is a viable business that really is valued in the community."

But just as he had to teach himself how to cut hair, Hardin Jr. had to teach himself how to run a business. As it turns out, the business that he purchased owed money to the city. Hardin Jr. spent three years running from one city department to another, trying to straighten out his new business' finances.

Sister Pie and other retail along Kercheval in West Village
It was a long process, one made longer by the fact that Hardin Jr. had no real support infrastructure at the time, no business classes to his credit. But he did it. Everything he's figured out, he's figured out on his own. 

"No one told me anything," he says. "I had to learn by trial and error."

Nowadays it seems like a new business opens in West Village every month. Yet here remains Heavy Weight Cuts, proudly standing. The waiting room is full. Sports TV plays in the background. Hardin Jr. is carving someone's name into the back of a young man's hair.

Hardin Jr. credits the community for his ability to stay open. It comes down to customer service, sure, but he says the real reason Heavy Weight Cuts is still open is because it's providing something valuable to the community. It wouldn't work otherwise.

And just as the community values Heavy Weight Cuts, so too does Hardin Jr. value them. He relishes his role behind the barber chair, giving quality cuts and talking with the customers. If it's someone's birthday, he'll knock a few bucks off. Or if someone's short a few dollars but still needs a haircut, he might spot them the difference until they can pay him back.

"The little I can do, I will do."

Even if it sounds like a little, it's a lot.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

MJ Galbraith is Model D's development news editor. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.