Not since our first annual Barber and Beautician of the Year Awards competition 2011have we seen such an outpouring of participation. Now in its 5th year, it’s a “people’s choice” award in every sense of the word, as the honor is based solely on our readers’ appreciation for the service provided by his or her favorite stylist. And who better to judge than the person who sits in the barber’s chair or under the cosmetologists dryer each week? The special salute to Barbers and Beauticians edition is designed to pay tribute to all our hair care specialists and to acknowledge winners of the 2015 Barber and Beautician of the year: Gregory Kerr and Karen Wright!
These two beautiful, talented and dedicated professionals represent excellence in the field, and are more than deserving to wear the title. We join the community in saluting them and congratulating them on this much deserved honor!
Gregory “Greg” Kerr
Gregory Kerr is Buffalo born and raised, attended Turner Carroll High School and Morgan State University where he studied graphic design. He returned home where he planned to transfer to school here, but those plans fell through. With three years of college under his belt from an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), he took a job at Rich Products and ended up working in the plant for 16 years (all the while cutting hair).
When his job was discontinued and he declined the offer to relocate, he eventually embarked on a career as a Master Barber and the owner of his own establishment. “Hair is an art form,” said Greg explaining the natural transition from studying graphics to barbering.
Self-taught, he had been cutting hair – first for himself then for cousins and friends -- since he was 16 years old and for at least seven or eight years before he joined Mr. J’s where he started cutting professionally in 1994. He moved from Mr. J’s to Pure Cuts on Genesee, owned by friend and co-worker Tim. From there he went on to open his own establishment – Klassic Kuts in Cleve Hill Plaza at Eggert and Kensington where he’s been for the past 10 years.
Mr. J’s played a significant role in the Klassic Kuts “family.” That’s where Greg and his three friends – Tim, (Pure Cuts), Biz and Melvin – all started out .They’re still together, joined now by Greg’s brother Garrett and barber Kobie. “We four have been together for 20 years,” Greg said proudly, ”and it took 20 years to build what we have. It’s important to have patience with your customers and each other,” he said. “This (barbering) is not a game. It’s a career and you’ve got to build it like any other career.” And it can be lucrative, he added. “A lot of families have generations of barbers,” he continued . “You make more working for yourself…and you make your money being consistent.” His clientele, he added, includes other ethnicities.
Giving back and sharing is another important component of success. He said they often share advice for success and any other helpful information to fellow barbers. Greg, at 45 years young, is married and the father of two boys ages 21 and 22 and a daughter 12. He’s also a proud grandfather. His grandson, he says , will possibly be the one to follow in his footsteps. He credits his mother (deceased) and his Aunt Margaret who helped raise him, for the man he has become and for instilling patience in him. His wife, he said, must get the credit “for keeping me business minded.” His dad is also deceased.
His advice to young barbers: “Stay humble and consistent in your art form and be patient” with yourself, your customers and your career development. At the end of the day, he concluded, your customers are the ones who make it happen. “I appreciate my customers a lot,” he said. “I enjoy my job and my customers are like family.” His feeling on being named Barber of the Year? “It feels good…” he said with a smile. “I’m not much on accolades. I let my work speak for itself.” (Special thanks to Greg and the Klassic Kuts family for their ongoing support of The Challenger. They have advertised weekly on a regular basis for at least a decade! Give Greg a call at 836-3260 or 480-9690.)
Karen Wright literally had“the book thrown at her” at one point in your life. That incident, she insists, was responsible for her pursuing the dream of becoming a cosmetologist. “My girlfriend, Patricia Scott, is responsible for me going to hair school,” recalled Karen during a recent interview in her impressive Salon & Spa.
Born and raised in the Ellicott Mall housing development, Karen was reared by her grandmother after the death of her mother who made her transition at the young age of 20. When she was in the 10th grade she moved with her father in Amherst where she attended and graduated from Amherst Central High School. “I wanted to get into hair then,” she recalled, but she was steered toward college.
She attended Howard University, an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). “I thought I wanted to be a lawyer,” said Karen. She was there long enough to get the “Black college experience” and after a year and a half came back to Buffalo. It was touch and go, in and out for a while after she returned. During one of those “out” periods she went to live with her girlfriend Patricia who laid down the law as soon as she hit the door. In addition to a few other rules, she was told that she could only stay there if she went to school. “She tossed one of those big phone books at me and when I caught it, the book was open to the page with an ad for PETER PICCOLO’S SCHOOL OF HAIR DESIGN.”
As far as Karen is concerned, that was no coincidence. It was a sign. After all, she wanted a career in cosmetology since high school! Karen admits that at the time she was a kind of “rolling stone,” but ended up back home and graduated from Peter Piccolo in 1986. “That’s when I started doing hair professionally. The first salon I worked in was Hair Flair 2000.” Fresh out of school, her tenure there was brief. “There were not a lot of salons back then and most were on Bailey,” she recalled. Karen worked at more than her fair share of establishments. But every place she went, she learned and grew. And when it was time to go, she left.
Her experiences included working for Goodlow Brown, owner of Satisfaction For Hair in the late eighties. Brown, stylist of the stars Process & the Do Rags, recognized Karen’s leadership qualities and made her manager. She also worked at Under The Yum Yum Tree, and Floyd and Darryl’s Obsession Studio For Hair. “But when I went to Yvonne’s Beauty Cutique that was the best thing that ever hit my life,” said Karen.
Owner Yvonne Hudson proved to be a real mentor to the young Miss Wright, and the environment nurtured and helped shape her career. She got “the whole picture” under Yvonne’s wing. “It was a melting pot,” Karen recalled fondly. There was Marcus who had the flair and energy; Noelle who kept everything moving; Miss “G” (Goggins) who provided spiritual grounding; the clean, professional environment; exposure to the latest and best in product lines and knowledge as well as exposure to all the hair shows. “I was introduced to everything,” she said. “I went to my first Bronner BrothersHair Show in Atlanta while at Yvonne's,” she recalled.
Karen, with the help of Yvonne, also participated in her first Juneteenth where she demonstrated her skills in the park. It was a resounding success.“After that I blew up and in 1988 I bought my first BMW!” She still drives a BMW, is a homeowner in the same South Division Street area where she grew up and operates Karen’s Salon & Spa on Jefferson Avenue- another amazing chapter in the life of Karen Wright.
Karen, whose focus has always been healthy hair, has taken her career to the next level with her salon and spa, a lovely, relaxing oasis in the heart of the inner city. With her knowledge of natural beauty and lifestyle, degree in cosmetology and years of experience, coupled with a degree in Esthetics (skin and hair - she is a trained and licensed Esthetician), she provides her clients with the best she has to offer from expert hair care to eyelashes and spa treatments.
A Certified Nurses Aide, she has one sister, Nicole Witcher and a brother, Kevin Wright, who is the Executive Pastor of The Well on Dodge Road in Getzsville.
Her advice to young cosmetologists: “You’ve got to be dedicated and humble and keep God first,” she began. “Continue your education, network, invest in quality and stay true to the hair game.” She gives credit to God for her own success. “Everything is God… ‘To GodBe The Glory!’” she declared. And she said she also has to give credit to her friend Patricia, the one who threw the book at her. “I’d like to thank my clients for following me all around Buffalo and being patient with me and growing with me! I have learned from every salon I’ve been to.” (She graciously acknowledged Leroy Reid, owner of the building/business where she is located). Through it all and at the end of the day, said Karen, “I’m still doing hair.”
(Editors Note, a special personal thank you to Karen who has been a supporter of The Challenger thru advertising continuously since 1989. This was the first year since the competition began that her name was submitted and the support she received was amazing. With a change in the season comes a change in our skin and hair. Give Karen’s Salon & Spa at call at 812-9666.)