El Barrio’s First Upscale Men’s Salon Celebrates 1st YearBy Leon Tulton
By Leon Tulton
An East Harlem-based business that specializes in grooming services for men celebrated its first-year anniversary November 14, 2007, challenging the myth that taking pride in one’s appearance is only for the ladies. The men’s salon, called BBRAXTON, located on 1400 Fifth Avenue along West 116th Street, was the result of an idea by Brenda Braxton and her husband Anthony Van Putten, co-owners of the facility. According to Braxton, who is also a Tony-nominated Broadway actress currently performing in the musical Chicago, the idea was based on a discussion she had with her husband about men who wanted grooming services like pedicures and facials in an environment where they felt comfortable. Our Latino and African-American men want a place where they can be pampered without having to go to a salon that caters mostly to a female clientele, she said. Braxton explained that the few salons that exclusively serve men, such as John Allan’s Club and Truman’s Gentlemen’s Groomers, are not located in Northern Manhattan and may not be used to handling ethnic grooming issues related to Latino and African-American men such as maintaining dreads and handling problems of ingrown hair. “It"s something that our Latino and African-American gentlemen need and it’s right here in the middle of Spanish Harlem,” Braxton said about her East Harlem-based business.
The services offered at BBRAXTON are like that of a barber shop, salon, and spa all rolled into one. According to its website, services include manicures and pedicures, natural hair care (including twist and lock maintenance), and therapeutic massage.
Male customers who attended the celebration party spoke positively about the salon. East Harlemites Owen Charles, 27, and Audie Vilot, 32, expressed their gratitude for this type of service being located in the community. “There"s definitely a market in this particular part of Harlem,” Charles said. Vilot added that he was pleased to see the store opened in his neighborhood instead of an area below 96th Street. “There are people here [in East Harlem] who have regular jobs [or are making] six-figure [salaries] who want the better things in life without having to go downtown,” he said.
Other customers from outside El Barrio also voiced their approval of BBRAXTON. Frazier Tharpe, 47, of New Jersey stated that he liked how the salon maintains an atmosphere of exclusivity for men who may feel hesitant about getting the types of services traditionally received by women. Marcus McGaughey, 32, from Brooklyn also said that he appreciated the “gentlemen’s club” feel to the salon. “It"s a place that makes you feel exclusive and different from the rest,” he said.
When asked how they felt about men who take pride in their personal grooming being stereotyped as either being gay or metrosexual, the male clients argued that these perceptions serve no purpose other than to stigmatize and do not look at the full spectrum of what defines a professional man. “I don’t see a problem with men doing what women have been doing for ages,” Marcus Felder, 24, an East Harlem resident, said challenging the negative perception of being well-groomed. Ayejay Spraggin, 33, of West Harlem, also expressed his opposition to professional men like himself being labeled as gay or metrosexual because he like to take care of his personal appearance. “It’s perceived that you’re more masculine if you’re more rough and unclean,” he said. “That’s something that we need to challenge.”
Although BBRAXTON successfully hit its first-year mark, the owner confessed that the business did initially encounter some obstacles along the way, including three burglaries and facility issues. “It was bad enough that we had to deal with three break-ins, but we also had to deal with flooding inside the building due to the pipes freezing up and bursting,” Braxton said. “We definitely came a long way since those trying times.”
Braxton said that she wants to expand the facility by buying a vacant store next door. She is also in the process of duplicating her East Harlem success by opening another salon in Las Vegas, Nevada. “Expanding opens up plenty of opportunities, but Harlem will always be home for BBRAXTON.”
For more information about BBRAXTON or to schedule an appointment, visit its website at http://www.bbraxton.com or call 212-369-3094.