In Englewood, Powell’s Barbershop marks new chapter years after fatal shooting struck business

The remodeled barbershop on Chicago’s South Side is part of a collective of entrepreneurs taking a new approach to building their businesses.

SHARE In Englewood, Powell’s Barbershop marks new chapter years after fatal shooting struck business
Sunni Powell, owner of Powell’s Barbershop in the Englewood neighborhood, stands inside his new barber shop, Saturday, April 15, 2023. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Sunni Powell, owner of Powell’s Barbershop in the Englewood neighborhood, sits inside his new barber shop, Saturday, April 15, 2023.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

For Sunni Powell, the relaunching of his business, Powell’s Barbershop, at a new location in Englewood this spring is akin to a phoenix rising in the community.

Nearly seven years ago, a gunman opened fire inside his barbershop, killing one person and wounding another. Undeterred, he opened up his shop the next day, but business wasn’t the same. Although he wasn’t the intended target, customers were reluctant to return.

As he sought ways to keep his business afloat, he came across a collective of business owners — that would later be named E.G. Woode — seeking grants to purchase a property that would anchor local businesses in Englewood.

The group, which Powell joined, received a Retail Thrive Zone grant, awarded under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration. The group also received private and philanthropic funds to purchase in 2018 and remodel a mixed-use building at 1122 W. 63rd St. into a commercial building that is now home to four businesses.

Hair stylist Toya Barnes, 48, shampoos Lena Speights’, 36, hair at Powell’s Barbershop, Saturday, April 15, 2023. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Hair stylist Toya Barnes, 48, shampoos Lena Speights’, 36, hair at Powell’s Barbershop Saturday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

“I wouldn’t have been able to come back this strong,” Powell said. “I had a really nice barbershop, and for someone to come in and kind of desecrate it, it was just horrible.”

And after years of setbacks that included shipping delays, the coronavirus pandemic and the death of his mother, Powell’s Barbershop at the new location is officially up and running. He had a soft opening in March and has been seeing clients since then.

Sunni Powell, owner of Powell’s Barbershop in the Englewood neighborhood, sits inside his new barber shop, Saturday, April 15, 2023. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Sunni Powell, owner of Powell’s Barbershop in the Englewood neighborhood, sits inside his new barber shop Saturday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

At Powell’s Barbershop, customers are greeted with a coffee bar operated by Momentum Coffee, one of the other businesses located in the building. The barbershop is adorned with black, leather chairs labeled “Powell’s.” A large side window brings in natural light.

“My heart is pulsating right now,” Powell said in a video he filmed of himself unveiling the remodeled space.

Momentum Coffee shares a space with Powell’s Barbershop, located at 1122 W. 63rd St. in the Englewood neighborhood, Saturday, April 15, 2023. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Momentum Coffee shares a space with Powell’s Barbershop, located at 1122 W. 63rd St. in the Englewood neighborhood.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

He wants the space to also serve as a launching pad for other barbers. He’s renting out some chairs to others who have completed courses at a local barber school while also trying to create a sense of mentorship about how to successfully operate a business.

“Most of the people who have businesses in Englewood don’t live in Englewood,” Powell said. “They aren’t natives of Englewood, and they aren’t the same race of most people in Englewood. So there’s a lot of people that come in, set up businesses and then take money out of the neighborhood.”

Sunni Powell, owner of Powell’s Barbershop in the Englewood neighborhood, offers a drink to Lena Speights, 36, a customer, as hair stylist Toya Barnes, 48, works on her hair at Powell’s Barbershop, Saturday, April 15, 2023. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Sunni Powell, owner of Powell’s Barbershop in the Englewood neighborhood, offers a drink to Lena Speights, 36, a customer, as hair stylist Toya Barnes, 48, works on her hair at Powell’s Barbershop Saturday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Deon Lucas, the president of E.G. Woode, said they wanted to give local business owners a well-designed space where they would feel safe while getting support to grow. That means making money off of the development isn’t the priority. For example, some tenants pay less than the market rate for similar commercial spaces, Lucas said.

The collective is already working on another similar project in Englewood, said Lucas, who is also a partner at the architecture firm Beehyyve that is housed in the same building as Powell’s Barbershop.

“If we can bring more folks to Englewood, to other communities in similar conditions, help them establish themselves, demonstrate that they can operate in business, then I think it makes it easier to do everything else,” Lucas said. “It makes it easier to pay higher taxes, it makes it easier to do housing, it makes it easier for other people to establish their businesses.”

Powell’s Barbershop, located at 1122 W. 63rd St. in the Englewood neighborhood, is seen in this photo, Saturday, April 15, 2023. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Powell’s Barbershop, located at 1122 W. 63rd St. in the Englewood neighborhood, is seen in this photo Saturday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Nanette Tucker has been operating her consignment boutique, Marie | Wesley, above Powell’s Barbershop since October. The shop works with formerly incarcerated people and those experiencing homelessness, teaching them the craft behind making and designing totes from repurposed items, such as banners used to label neighborhoods.

Before opening the boutique, Tucker sold items online and participated in pop-ups where she sold original items she made.

While some days have been slower than others, Tucker said she is glad to have a space in her community.

“For me, it’s been good because it’s been a lifelong dream,” she said.

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.

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