Tight Cuts

Tools of the Trade, Tight Cuts barbershop. (Photos by Fatema Al Darii)

by Fatema Al Darii

When I lost my favorite hat to the James River, I went into mourning for a time, and then decided to get a haircut.

Michael B. Lemon, owner of Tight Cuts.

That’s what brought me to Tight Cuts Unisex Barbershop on First Street in Jackson Ward on a chilly Tuesday afternoon in April. Tight Cuts was relatively empty that day. The sounds of the TV mixed with the buzz of clippers, filling the place with a happy, tranquil noise.

Everyone struggled with my name.

“Say it again?”


Fits of laughter. Yes, it’s awkward to be called Fat-Ma, but I always appreciate the effort people make to pronounce my name correctly. Michael, the barber, tried until he got it right.

Originally from Church Hill a few miles away, Michael B. Lemon, the shop’s owner and lead barber, is a native of Richmond who moved to Jackson Ward years ago to open this business.

“Actually my father is a barber,” he said casually. “I picked up the trade from him.”

Including Michael, there are four people who work at Tight Cuts: A man in a bright orange shirt with a white barber coat, whom I first met outside the shop, sitting on a stool smoking a cigarette; a friendly looking women in a black apron; and another lady who was absent at that moment.

A regular customer of Tight Cuts sits for a touch-up.

After Michael cut my hair, I struck up a conversation with the woman with the black apron, who was sitting on the far side of the shop.

“How do you spell it?” I asked.

“K-I-A, like the car,” she answered.

Kia has been working at the barbershop for about a year. It’s not a long, drawn-out story, how she got here.

“I walked by one day and saw that they needed some help. I lent them a hand and that’s how I ended up working here.”

Along with her female colleague, who hadn’t yet returned, Kia’s services are what makes the barbershop “Unisex.”

“I did Michael’s braids,” she said.

“The barbershop is a community,” she went on. “It gets crazy but everyone who comes in here is friendly. You know, they’re here to get their hair done.”

It was a peaceful afternoon, with Michael and Kia and stool man and the woman who never came back, and the TV and the electric clippers.

Today I noticed that my sideburns are uneven. I’m thinking to go back to get them done.