Forty years ago, it was Mr. Afro's. The passage of time and a shift in hair trends led to a name change for the business that had been in Ray James' family for four decades.
Now known as the Fade Factory, the North Minneapolis barbershop was purchased by James' aunt and later passed down to a cousin. James spent a significant amount of time in the shop as a child and knew he wanted to continue its legacy.
"My aunt took a loss on the sale to keep it in the family," said James, who has owned the shop for 10 years and remodeled it after he took over. "The shop was the heart of the neighborhood, and I wanted to keep it going."
The Fade Factory was part of a three-suite building that included a barbecue restaurant, a hair-braiding shop, and a clothing store. But the building was destroyed by fire during the protests that followed the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by police.
James said firetrucks didn't get to his shop for 2 ½ hours. When he called for service, he was told to "get in line" because firefighters had four other buildings ahead of his, with possible casualties. Seeing his business burn, knowing help was not coming, "broke my heart," James said.
"To be honest, I felt betrayed," James said about the destruction of his shop. "So many barbers around here have gotten their first jobs in my shop. We've been a part of the community for a long time."
The loss of his business only compounded a difficult year for James and his family. Closing the shop during the COVID-19 pandemic was a significant loss of income, and his son also contracted the virus. James also lost a loved one to the virus.
James will use the BeyGOOD grant he received to rebuild his business. The BeyGOOD grant was created by singer Beyonce's foundation, BeyGOOD, in partnership with the NAACP to support struggling Black small business owners impacted by the pandemic and recent nationwide unrest.
"This means a lot," James said. "To be in need and have people come together to help – and especially Beyonce. People don't even believe me when I mention this grant is from her. I deeply appreciate it."