Community

Nook’s Barbershop on the Cusp of Change

On the day before a fundraiser and community meeting, Sabrina Palmer, owner of Nook’s Beauty & Barbershop, had little, if anything, to say about her ongoing court battle with her new landlord or last summer’s controversial police jump-out that took place in front of her business.

She did, however, speak about her desire, now more than ever, for licensed barbers, braiders and hairstylists.

Until October, when Nook’s closed for a few days, a group of barbers and hairstylists kept a steady flow of people entering and exiting the barbershop and salon. Since many of them left Nook’s, Palmer and her son, a barber in his 20s following in the footsteps of his late father Wayne Palmer, for whom Nook’s is named, have tried to hold down the fort with their clientele.

“The customer base has dramatically decreased, but I love our family, doing hair, and the business so we have been trying to work together and just hang in there,” Palmer said Friday afternoon. “The community has been here to support when we were closed for many days. Old and new customers are always welcomed here at Nook’s. We can accommodate them at any time since we’re still here. We appreciate strong support from friends, family, and community.”

Last fall, 1100 Eastern LLC, recipients of a city contract to build affordable housing for seniors on the property that includes Nook’s, sent a letter to tenants ordering them to immediately evacuate the premises. Soon after, Palmer and her neighbors found padlocks on their doors. After a series of negotiations, Nook’s opened many days later.

Some of the staff, however, had found jobs elsewhere. Some customers also left.

In response, Palmer and her neighbors, Sunny Chicken & Fish and Uncle Lee’s Liquor Store, filed a lawsuit against 1100 Eastern LLC on Oct. 15, alleging that the company, part of the Neighborhood Development Corporation (NDC), attempted to force their eviction with false claims of an environmental hazard.

In a press release that month, Johnny Barnes, a well-known civil rights attorney representing the businesses involved in the lawsuit, said a document NDC showed him during a meeting didn’t completely support its environmental hazard assertions. On Saturday afternoon, spoke about the ongoing court case against his clients’ landlord, repeatedly iterating what he described as NDC’s obvious guilt in this situation.

“You cannot evict anyone without going to court. That’s called a self-help eviction which is illegal,” said Barnes, who’s scheduled to appear before a judge on behalf of Nook’s on Friday. He revealed plans to file a motion for summary judgment, a process through which his clients win the case without enduring a lengthy trial.

“The plaintiffs aren’t being obstructionists,” Barnes said. “They just don’t want to be victims. You can’t put padlocks on a person’s business without notice or warning. We tried to solve this case in an amicable way and [NDC] was just being hard-nosed about it. They changed the income stream of those businesses overnight and did it wrongfully.”

A Community Institution

Nook’s Beauty & Barbershop sits near the intersection of Sherriff Road, and Eastern and Division avenues in Deanwood, a Northeast neighborhood that has been designated as a Liberation Zone by Black Lives Matter DC.

Last summer, a viral online video showing members of the Metropolitan Police Department’s gun seizure unit surrounding a group of men standing in front of Nook’s intensified discussion about the correlation between neighborhood violence, overzealous policing, and displacement of Black businesses and residents.

A community forum at Deanwood Recreation Center in Northeast, and other gatherings immediately following the July incident, provided activists ample opportunity to speak about the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (NEAR) Act, legislation passed by the D.C. Council in 2016 that would promote community-led violence prevention efforts and facilitate the collection and aggregation of police stop-and-frisk data. To the chagrin of lawmakers and anti-police brutality advocates, the Bowser administration has yet to implement the NEAR Act.

In May, the D.C. chapter of American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU-DC), in conjunction with Black Lives Matter DC and the Stop Police Terror Project, filed a lawsuit against D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham and Kevin Donahue, deputy mayor for public safety and justice, for what had been described as a dearth of specific data about police stops in the District.

As recently as last month, D.C. Superior Court Judge John M. Campbell had been expected to rule in favor of ACLU-DC, a move that would force officers to fill a detailed form to document each police stop.

Earlier this month, members of Black Lives Matter DC increased their focus on a provision of the NEAR Act that establishes the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement and places violence interrupters throughout District communities. As of right now, such a program, where residents with neighborhood rapport quell violence, has only been implemented in Wards 5 and 8.

On the afternoon of Jan. 5, a week before the fundraiser, organizers gathered around a table in Nook’s before walking through the Deanwood community to speak about the NEAR Act and their upcoming event.

April Goggans of Black Lives Matter DC said she considered dispelling misinformation about the NEAR Act of the utmost importance.

“The community has a role to change the norms of violence and this is where it starts,” she said. “When there is violence, they need to come together, change the norm, and decide the values to build up the community. We have to get them to believe and realize they have some sort of power.”

As a show of that power, Black Lives Matter DC helped raise money last summer to install a new cooling system in Nook’s. Since early October, when Nook’s future had been in question, the collective, along with other groups, organized protests in front of Nook’s and the home of NDC’s co-owner and CEO Adrian Washington.

Money from the most recent fundraiser, also organized by Black Lives Matter DC, would go toward Nook’s daily operations.

In 1994, Palmer, a hairstylist for nearly her entire life, and her husband, Wayne, a well-known barber and pastor, opened Nook’s Beauty & Barbershop. The couple ran the shop together until Wayne’s death in 2013. Palmer has since sat at the helm, with hopes of eventually passing along the business to her children.

“I know eventually it will get better,” she said. “My goal is to continue to be able to work, making improvements to the shop, and making the business better. We hope and pray that we get more licensed barbers, stylists, and braiders. One day, the business will turn over to my boys. One of them is a barber. The other one goes to school for business administration and accounting. They have been contributing to the shop as much as they can.”

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