East Side Stories

Neighborhood Barbershop: A Long Process to Create a Safe Space Photo

Neighborhood Barbershop: A Long Process to Create a Safe Space

Last September, Cliff Doran reopened his East Side business, Neighborhood Barbershop, at its new location: on Payne Avenue. It took him a long time to get to opening day. 

Doran began cutting hair at Maplewood Mall more than a decade ago. He opened his first shop on Earl Street and moved to Maryland Avenue after five years. However, he was immediately unhappy with his new location and the poor maintenance being done, but had signed a three year lease. As soon as he could, Doran began looking for a new spot on the East Side, where he had built his clientele. 

Doran knew he wanted to be on a busier street, get more drive-by traffic. Payne Avenue and Arcade Street both had plenty of empty buildings, but the process to get into the spaces were long, difficult and covered in red tape. So when he finally got into a space, he got to work right away. 

He worked on getting approvals from the city and the Minnesota Board of Barber Examiners. Doran estimates he invested $25,000 in creating the space. He was finally able to open after three months of renovations. 

“There’s a lot of spots open and a lot of opportunity on Payne to do things,” Doran said. “I’m here trying to show things differently. There is a lot of barbershops around, but my format of how I want to run my shop and how I want things to be is a whole different look. You can tell by the way people come in. When they come in, they act a certain way.”

When you walk into the shop, you are immediately greeted with a sign that reads “Pull Your Pants Up.” This rule isn’t new to the new location, and Doran says even with the new sign, he still has to tell people. He said people have gotten up and left the shop when he’s told them to pull their pants up before. And he’s fine with that.

“When people say they’re trying to figure out their purpose in life, I’ve been like ‘what is my purpose?!’ Then I find out talking to people. A lot of people listen to me, a lot of people come to me for advice,” Doran said. “I feel as though the whole barbershop thing puts me in contact with people and I talk to so many.”

Doran calls his shop his “fish bowl”. Whatever happens outside doesn’t come inside the shop. And he’s very strict about it. He’s banned customers for buying drugs or coming in while under the influence. 

“I want people to come in, but I also want them to feel safe,” Doran said. "I don’t care what type of walk of life you have. You could be a part of the problem, but when you come in here, this is a place where you don’t have to worry about it.”

Doran knows from personal experience. When the housing market crashed, he was working in the mortgage business. He knew he had to scramble to find a new career and, as a felon, found barbering to be his only choice. 

“I was part of the problem before, so I know that I would want to go and get away from those types of things,” he said. “If you want to get away from those types of things, don’t bring it here. This is where you can be calm at. I’m trying to keep you safe, but this isn’t where you bring your mess. I’m trying to do something different.” 

Since moving into his new space, he has been approached by other business owners to become involved in the local small business associations. He plans to do this, when he finally feels settled. 

Doran is proud of the new space. He recognizes that he is setting a precedence as far as quality and maintenance and space goes. He hopes to see other businesses along Payne Avenue follow suite. 

“Over here on the East Side, it’s a little rough,” Doran said. “But I think the people around here deserve to have good things.” 

For more information or to make an appointment, visit their Facebook page.

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938 Payne Ave East
Saint Paul, MN 55130