A convivial vibe at A-Unique Barbershop in Anaheim greets patrons looking for the perfect taper, fade or specialty cut shortly before closing on a recent afternoon. Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble” bumps in the background while barbers talk hoops. “I like Lonzo Ball,” Charles the barber says of the Lakers’ rookie point guard. “You don’t like Lonzo!” Ernie, his fellow barber, playfully fires back. “I like him, but I hope LeBron James dunks on him tonight for his dad like this!” Charles says. He acts out a thunderous slam to drive his point home and earn some chuckles.
In the back of the barbershop, owner Pierre Dotson isn’t cutting hair. Instead, he’s meticulously scrapping glue off of a sign that’s going to adorn the longtime black-owned business’ new location. Only, it’s not the way he planned to mark A-Unique Barbershop’s 20th anniversary next year. David Cessna, a property manager for Lincoln & Dale Plaza where A-Unique’s made its home since 1998, came into the shop looking for him one day in late October, but not for a haircut. The two met soon after that the nearby Clausen Enterprises office when Cessna tried handing over paperwork informing Dotson that his lease wasn’t going to be renewed.
“Rent’s never been an issue, even with the increases over the years,” Dotson says. He recalled Cessna noting the two having their “differences” since the company took over the plaza and remodeled it about a year ago. During the conference room conversation the barber says issues about the music and the clientele the shop attracted to the plaza were expressed. “Basically, he was saying everything of the black culture but he was very methodical in his words,” he adds. Dotson requested by email to finish up remaining business with someone else at Clausen Enterprises, citing “animosity” directed towards him.
The Weekly left calls and emails with Cessna and Clausen Enterprises but received no comment. A-Unique may be a black barbershop, but boasts a diverse clientele. Whites, Latinos and blacks all sat in the shop either getting a cut or waiting their turn. None of the loyal customers are happy with the news. “Y’all were a lighthouse for us, a safe place for blacks, whites, Asians and Hispanics [to] come and fellowship together,” one customer wrote on social media. “Unity is what takes place. But wherever you go next will be even better.”
The shop gained accolades after being featured in the Weekly‘s award-winning 2013 cover packet, Where the Black People At? A big trophy celebrates its “Best Barbershop” honors in our “Best Of” issue that same year. The OC Register followed our lead a year later and put Dotson on the cover of their own story on African-American life in the county while discovering A-Unique to be an easy place to get a quote on issues affecting the black community.
A Navy veteran turned entrepreneur, Dotson says his small business is the only storefront in the plaza getting the boot. “I honestly think it’s because we’re black,” he says. “Cessna doesn’t know what we mean to this community and how deep our roots are in the city. I think he just sees a black barbershop.” Barbers also complained about two surveillance cameras uniquely positioned right outside their entrance. The shop plans on staying open all the way until December 30, one day before the lease officially expires. The holiday haircut rush is just too busy a time to shutter. Not wanting his barber crew to become unemployed after the holidays, Dotson began searching for a new location right after the meeting. He’s owned the shop for the past 10 years and only briefly considered closing down before jettisoning the idea. “I instantly had to figure out where to move a 20-year-old established business in 60 days,” he says. The search began by driving around Anaheim until finding an empty storefront at 2532 W. Lincoln Avenue in a nearby plaza.
The new space is hastily under construction, but a temporary banner hanging outside announces itself as the future home of A-Unique Barbershop. The location feels bigger but barren. With enough room for more work stations, Dotson hopes to hire at least two new barbers and host a grand re-opening in January. He put in a pool table to pay homage to the early days of A-Unique. There’s room enough to entertain thoughts of having a small production studio for local musicians.
“For there to actually be an honest business that’s putting out positivity with an amazing group of guys, I have to fight for that and I won’t stop fighting for that,” Dotson says. “I hope the community continues to accept us, just being down the street. This should be a good change for everybody.”
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!
One Reply to “A-Unique Barbershop, Longtime Black-Owned Anaheim Business, Gets Booted”
I am an African American woman and interested in relocating to California in the next 12 months. I was strongly considering Orange County because of the weather, proximity to the beach and home affordability. But as a professional I am extremely bothered by this article. I originally read a 2012 article that featured this business owner, and did another search and stumbled upon this article. This coupled with other news has lead me to abort all Orange County relocation efforts.