Muskegon Heights, Michigan
“Northern Initiatives came through when I needed them.” – Carlton Briggs, owner
The early days of the pandemic were tough on Carlton Briggs and his Emmanuel Barbershop. They were really tough on his customers.
“This culture – although we’ll cut all hair – likes to have a haircut every week or two,” Briggs said of his typically Black clientele in Muskegon Heights. When the Emmanuel Barbershop was allowed to open, albeit with limited capacity, he had customers lined up for days, and a pile of hair on the floor that just kept growing.
He also had a pile of credit card debt.
“It was horrible,” he said. “I was already living off my savings, had no income, and had to spend on credit cards I have to pay back … with no income. I had applied for disaster relief, PPP loans and kept getting denied. “I have high faith in God, but I knew I had to do something.”
That “something” came in the form of idea while on a group Zoom with other entrepreneurs of color. “A lot of us hadn’t gotten any help,” Briggs remembers. He applied for a loan from Northern Initiatives. “Northern Initiatives came through when I needed them,” he said.
Funds for the Emmanuel Barbershop loan came from the Community Foundation of Muskegon, with its goal to “foster a dynamic local economy” in the Muskegon area, also a big part of Northern Initiatives’ mission. Muskegon Heights, with a population of about 10,000, is more than 75% Black, with close to 35% of its people living in poverty, according to the 2020 U.S. Census. Northern Initiatives is continuing its outreach and lending in Muskegon Heights to ensure entrepreneurs have access to capital and support.
The loan helped Briggs consolidate his credit card debt into manageable payments, and get back to work. Emmanuel Barbershop opens early, at 6 a.m. sometimes, but Briggs always makes sure to close by 5 p.m. to be home with his wife and three children.
The Emmanuel Barbershop is more than just a place to get a haircut, of course. Briggs helps his customers – and anyone else who drops in – especially by listening, he says. “I’m part social worker, part counselor. The barbershop is a big stepping stone in the community.” Topics on a recent day included car insurance, car wraps, sports, investments, credit, politics, conspiracies, and relationships. Briggs also likes to “change the mindset of generational thinking.” He regularly donates haircuts for back-to-school events, and cuts the hair of deceased people for free.
One of his clients, 8-year-old Darion Goree, comes to the barbershop every two weeks. His mother, Tamera Ferguson, says that’s because Briggs knows how to work with Darion, who has autism. Briggs also has a son with autism. “The secret is the first couple of times to have patience, do what the kid will let you do, use technology, and keep their minds busy,” Briggs said.
The beginnings of carpal tunnel syndrome have made Briggs all too aware that his barbering days will be ending, and he has set his exit plan in motion. He’s getting his feet wet in real estate, buying and improving houses; and his barbershop partner, Terrell Harris, a former customer and mentee, is working in the shop’s other chair.