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'People walked before me' | Atlanta native, master barber creating not just a haircut but experience

After cutting hair at a young age and dreams of owning a barbershop, Tony Roberts finally got his big break 25 years later.
Credit: Tony's Barber Studio
Tony's Barber Studio

ATLANTA — A 14-year-old boy grew a love for cutting hair on his mom's front porch in southwest Atlanta. A line grew in front of the house of boys eager to get their $5 haircut in front of the home on Beatie Avenue. 

At 16, the Atlanta boy already had a job at a neighborhood barbershop. He would then graduate and become a licensed barber at the shy age of 18, working at a shop in Greenbriar Mall. 

A couple of years later, Tony Roberts opened his first studio called the "Exclusive". In 1998, Tony's Barber Studio was born.

According to Roberts, his studio has now become a staple for even some former Atlanta mayors and other members of the Black community to get their haircut. 

Black-owned barbershops have been historically known to create a sense of community for many Black men, especially those struggling mentally.

"A group of guys come in on Saturday morning," Roberts said. "They pour into each other, and sometimes, its a prayer session. It's us talking about family struggles and marital struggles, relational struggles."

Now, barbers, including Roberts, have been focusing on the inclusion of women and children in their places.

"One of the things I prided myself on over the years is not just being a typical barber shop, but having an atmosphere that was conducive for mothers and children and everybody," Roberts said.

Roberts said that when people walk into Tony's Barber Studio, conversations are held about culture, community and society. He said the atmosphere is the culture that exists in the room to help make room for others in generations coming. Roberts' barbers and his customers also talk about the city's evolution. 

"It is very important that we present ourselves in a way that represents our culture, you know, our community. And that makes others proud and aspire to do or be better in whatever area they're working in, but especially barbers that are coming up behind us," Roberts said. 

Credit: Tony's Barber Studio
Tony's Barber Studio

Atlanta Black barbers in history

The Atlantic Station master barber mentioned those who stepped before him in the Atlanta barber community.

"The people that walked before me that allowed me to be and operate in the places and spaces that I operate in today," said Roberts. 

Alonzo Herndon, who Roberts explained as one of the first African-American barbershop owners in the history of Atlanta. Herndon was an entrepreneur during the 1800s, a time when Black people didn't have many opportunities. He owned a shop on Peachtree Street. 

Roberts also mentioned Curtis McGee as one of the prolific barbershop owners he honors during Black History Month. 

McGee owned Profile Institute and Barbershop on Cleveland Avenue, the barbershop owner stated.

"I take time and just kind of honor those people when I think about them during this time of the year," said Roberts. 

Although many Black barbers grew the successful business, some still face struggles. For Roberts, having to move from his previous location in Colony Square to Atlantic Station was a bit difficult. 

Roberts and his team of barbers had a limited window to move out after the owner told them they were selling the building. He said he was thankful he had help from a property manager looking out for him. 

"It was devastating for me as an owner when we were told that the building was selling and we had to transition out and it was a spur of the moment thing," Roberts said.

The master barber sees himself stepping back and becoming more invested in his faith and church community. But, he does not see himself stopping his craft of cutting hair. 

"It's not work to me. It's just been a joy since I started at 14," said Roberts.

To learn more about Tony's Barber Studio, click here.

This story is a part of a series highlighting local Black businesses and their embodiment of Black excellence in light of Black History Month. To view more stories, visit 11alive.com/blackhistory

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