When L.A. Williams originally came to the Windy City more than 30 years ago, he couldn’t have guessed he’d end up with his own barbershop on West Sheridan Road.
Williams, 55, is the main barber and owner of Style Zone Hair Design, a small, yet stylish red-and-black themed shop, located in the Woodruff Arcade Building at West Sheridan Road and North Broadway Avenue. With the faint smell of shampoo, conditioner and hair oils, and with old school R&B playing in the background, the shop allows you to feel at home.
When he was 26 years old, Williams left his home in Indianapolis to pursue his dream of becoming a fashion designer. Realizing early on he wasn’t making enough to support himself because of the unpredictability of the fashion world, he decided to enroll in Wilfred Academy of Hair and Beauty Culture.
Williams said people doubted him going into the beauty industry because he had no experience. However, Williams believed practice makes perfect.
“If you work hard at it, you’ll develop the gift of styling and cutting hair. You got to grind at it, though,” Williams said.
Williams started his first shop at the intersection of Rogers Street and Howard Street more than 20 years ago, where he primarily styled women’s hair. Williams said this bored him and he missed working on men’s hair.
Williams said he had to vacate the shop a few years later due to an inattentive landlord, but when he came to Rogers Park, he found the community to be vastly different. From the intimate relationships with his clients, to his efficient and hands-on landlord, Michael Keller, the neighborhood was a major improvement.
“If something was wrong, [Keller] would fix it, you never had to go outside. He would fix it,” Williams said.
Last December, Keller sold the Woodruff building to Algonquin Venture Real Estate, LLC. Businesses leasing space there were told they had until the end of the year to vacate.
Algonquin Venture Real Estate, LLC could not be reached for comment.
Williams has to be out by Nov. 30. Originally he was set to move in late December, but the deadline moved up after developers gave the tenants two months of free rent.
“I wasn’t really upset. I’ve been with Michael [Keller] for almost 20 years. I had a good run here. That’s the way I look at it,” Williams said.
After nearly two decades of styling hair in Rogers Park, Williams said he plans to move his shop close by on Devon Avenue.
“My customers are shocked that the place is going to be gone and that I’m not going to be here in two months,” Williams said. “Not too many people cut the way I do around here. I’ve been very fortunate. I finally found a niche around here.”
He simply describes his niche as being more than just a barber — he’s a friend, too.
Some of those friends happen to be Loyola students.
Loyola sophomore Justin Mans, 19, vows to follow Style Zone wherever Williams moves.
“L.A. is a cool dude and has given me one of the best cuts I’ve ever had, so I’m always coming back here,” Mans said.
First-year journalism major Adnan Hadzalic is also a fan of Williams.
“When I go to Style Zone, it’s more of an experience than just getting my hair done. They made me feel comfortable,” Hadzalic said.
Williams attributed his success to Lily Smith, the woman who gave him his first job as a barber, which, he said, was his first opportunity to learn and prove himself as a great barber.
“She gave me the opportunity to learn and as long as I was loyal and working, she let me do whatever I needed to do to get better,” Williams said.
To stay updated, Williams encourages clients to check out his Facebook page. He also asks customers to book appointments early since all business will be done through appointments and not walk-ins.
Style Zone Hair Design is one of the many businesses affected by the replacement of the nearly century-old Woodruff Arcade Building — the last of its kind in the city. The Mustard Seed Christian Bookstore will most likely close before Thanksgiving, according to the owner.
Edgemark Commercial Real Estate Services, LLC, released a proposed development in May to replace the Woodruff Arcade Building after its demolition at the end of the year. The development, titled Loyola Gateway, would be seven stories and include 58 residential units and retail space on the first floor.