Step into Rolando’s Barber Shop, at 40th and River Park, and you’re transported to a different time and place. Rolando Minter holds court, wearing a uniform bow tie, and a stream of young and old customers come in for haircuts, and wisdom.
“You work in here you got to wear a necktie and uniform, but we dress down on Saturday,” he says of the shop that he opened in 1992, nine years after starting barber school. “I try to be an example to the young kids, try to tell them to go to school, get an education.”
That’s why the walls here are covered in photos – of civil rights heroes, local politicians, sports stars and customers who have gone on to graduate from local schools and find success. Minter wants the kids to see role models, right there on the walls of his shop.
“I like to encourage young guys and girls in the neighborhood to go to school, get an education and be something in life,” he says.
Minter said the shop – which has boarded-up businesses on either side of it – is a neighborhood gathering spot with plenty of talk of sports, and the rivalry between U of L and UK is topic Number 1. He discourages any talk of politics and has a sign posted to watch your language. Mostly, he says, he wants people to show mutual respect.
Minter had one other job in his life, at the old A & P grocery store, but when it closed, he knew he needed to find a career. A friend’s father owned a barber shop, and suggested that Minter consider the profession. He enrolled in barber college in 1983, working part-time at Davidson’s before opening his own place.
He has never lived far from the neighborhood where he was raised, growing up nearby on Greenwood, just two blocks from Muhammad Ali’s boyhood home. He misses the days when the area was filled with businesses, including a grocery store, a dry cleaners, a laundromat, a bakery. But he says he’s optimistic about the changes he’s heard about that will bring new families into better housing, such as the razing of the Beecher Terrace homes.
“Now I’m about the only business down here,” he says, adding that he’s too entrenched in the area to consider a move. He thinks he will be here at least another 10 years.
Minter says he does about 10-15 haircuts per day, many of them for young black men in the neighborhood requesting a “D.C. Fade.” But he says he gets customers from all across town, white and black. A haircut today costs a modest $15, three times what he charged when he started.
“Doctors, lawyers, preachers, senators – everybody needs a haircut,” he says. “I have people who come from Lake Forest, the Polo Fields. They come here from all over. It’s all about how you conduct yourself and your business.”