Damon Johnson: Transitions: University Ave

Damon Johnson owns and operates the Grooming House Barber Shop. He wants to remain a part of the University Avenue community through its transition


What is your name and what business do you run on University?

My name is Damon Johnson and my business is Grooming House Barber Shop.

How did you come up with the name for your business?

I wanted to try to do something that was a little more friendly. Something that everybody could see and kind of understand what we were doing and seemed a little more upscale.

What is your role at the Grooming House?

I’m a barber and also I’m pretty much in charge of doing all our marketing and design and stuff like that.

How long have you been in business?

We’ve actually been in business for about four years, but I’ve been cutting hair myself for about eleven years. Actually with a license for eleven years.

Could you tell us a bit more about yourself. How did you get into the grooming business?

I got into barbering when I was about 12 years old. I used to live out in the suburbs and there weren’t a lot of places that knew how to cut my kind of hair. So I started cutting my hair and my brother’s hair as practice and then I got better with it over the years. My grandma is also a barber so when I graduated, she kind of talked me into doing it as a full time profession.

So your whole family is basically into barbering, most of them?

A couple of them.

Are you familiar with the area?

Yeah, I’m actually from the area originally. Used to live on Carroll Street when I was a kid.

Why did you feel the need to move your business to a new location?

Well the one that we were in wasn’t too bad, but it was an older building so it needed a lot of upkeep.

And there is a light rail coming through so we know a lot of the street parking was going to be taken up on University Avenue. So we decided it would be best for us to get into a newer location where we would have a lot more parking so we could accommodate our customers during construction and also afterwards.

Do you know anything about the history of this building where your business is located now?

I know there used to be a police station and before that there were a lot of other things that were on that corner. I think some strip clubs and peep shows and a bunch of stuff like that.

What are your concerns about the light rail being built on University Avenue?

The biggest concern is how it will affect businesses during the construction and then even some of the businesses also afterwards, just for the simple fact they won’t have any street parking customers. So people can’t really get to you like they used to. It’s not as easy for them to get to. A lot of times they will actually just be going to other places where it is a little easier. I am a little concerned about that.

How will the CCLRT affect your employees?

The type of business that we have, if anything, some of them might end up leaving on their own. We don’t give them paychecks. They actually work off 100% commission. They have their own clientele, they pay out a certain amount to rent their space that they are actually using. So if it ever got to that point where they don’t think they can afford their booth rent, then they possibly would leave on their own going somewhere else. 

There is funding to help small business during light rail construction, do you get to use these funds?

I’ve heard a little bit about it, but I’m not exactly sure how it works. So much stuff going on with all these different organizations they have set up to supposedly help out. But there’s not a lot of information directly on who exactly you go through or get in contact with in order to use some of those funds.

How will changes in rent and property taxes affect your business?

It will be interesting to see. We are actually in the process of trying to get our stuff organized so that we can purchase our space.

Are there any final comments that you would like to make about the light rail or construction of it?

I just hope that everything runs smoothly and it allows my business and a lot of the other local businesses to stay in business and continue to grow. A lot of times when these projects happen, it has a way of pushing out the local businesses because it makes it too expensive or unaffordable for the small businesses, and then a lot of the bigger corporate ones come in. So I definitely hope that it allows us to stay in business and find a way to be part of this new community.

Made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the vote of Minnesotans on November 4, 2008. Administered by the Minnesota Historical Society.