Business still buzzing: Janaid’s Salon for Men toasts 30th anniversary amid COVID

Owner Janaid Kareem gives Ro Surpris a cut at Janaid’s The Salon For Men in Dover. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — It is not just the thousands of haircuts that Janaid Kareem has crafted in three decades as a barbershop owner in downtown Dover that stands out to him.

Rather, it is the many relationships he has cultivated among his clientele — many of whom have become close friends over many years — that mean the most.

This year, Mr. Kareem and his staff are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the ever-popular Janaid’s The Salon for Men at 211 West Loockerman St. And while the business is happily marking the milestone, like most others it’s in a daily fight against the COVID-19 pandemic just to stay afloat.

“This is definitely the craziest year I’ve ever had,” Mr. Kareem said. “The social-distancing aspect is keeping a lot of my guys out of work and clients aren’t wanting to come in because of social distancing.

“I’m having to do private haircuts early in the morning and late at night, so it’s definitely different, and we just got that new mandate for December 14th, so it’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out.”

That mandate by Gov. John Carney and the Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH) was the new Stay-at-Home advisory, strongly advising all Delawareans to avoid gathering indoors with anyone outside of their household from Dec. 14 through Jan. 11 to interrupt the dangerous winter surge of COVID-19 cases, which has been breaking records in recent weeks.

“We have 12 chairs in here now,” said Mr. Kareem. “Before COVID, I had three shampoo techs, I had a receptionist and we had 11 (barbers) on staff, so we had 15 employees. Now, it’s five.

“I can’t bring the shampoo techs in because they’re a little skeptical about shampooing people’s hair and that sort of thing, then the receptionist in the front’s duties became so lopsided that you can’t fully employ her. Then I’ve also got guys here who have older clientele who don’t want to come in and I’ve got guys whose wives are nurses … so it’s trying.”

However, he said the regular clientele that is devoted to his barbershop is what makes it all worthwhile.

Owner Janaid Kareem of Janaid’s The Salon For Men in Dover is celebrating 30 years in business.

Janaid’s The Salon for Men has been at its West Loockerman location for more than five years after moving from the corner of Loockerman and Queen streets, where it had been located for more than 20 years. Mr. Kareem actually began his business at longtime Dover City Councilman Reuben Salters’ old building on New Street, right around the corner from where it is now.

The line of people looking to get haircuts has remained constant, even amid the pandemic.

Mr. Kareem said there’s a reason — it’s all about strong relationships.

“I love meeting people and building relationships,” he said. “Those relationships that I’ve built in here often go outside the shop. (One client) just invited me to Africa, so building those relationships is good.”

However, he added that it can be a two-edged sword to forming those bonds with his clientele.

“One of the more difficult things about it that a lot of people don’t realize is the average client base comes to see us once a week or once every two weeks, so you’re talking about seeing somebody 52 times a year, or 26 times a year at least,” Mr. Kareem said. “Sometimes that’s more than they see their mother, that’s more than they see their father, and more than they see their brother, so you build this brotherhood and this camaraderie where you know their children and you know their whole family.

“Then you get a phone call one day and they say, ‘It’s my last haircut, I’m moving,’ and it’s like a part of your family is leaving. That’s the good and the bad about building those relationships. There’s been people that I’ve cut their hair as teenagers and now they have children, and now some of them have children, so it’s been an interesting ride here.”

Mr. Kareem studied under Master Barber Clarence Tribbett when he was a teenager learning the profession back in 1977. Mr. Tribbett, who was one of the first Black barbershop owners in Delaware, was known as “Mr. Buck” by most everybody he encountered.

It was advice from Mr. Buck that Mr. Kareem took to heart, even as he was first starting out in the business.

“The best business advice I’ve ever gotten was from Mr. Buck,” Mr. Kareem said. “Mr. Buck told me when I was 18 that if I can (cut hair) for the owner of the shop that I can do it for myself.

“A lot of times we get trapped into thinking that we can’t do it and he pushed me and helped me understand that those people are coming in the door for you. (The owner) just has the building. So, if you can do it for him to help him provide a building for you then you can do it for yourself and help provide work for other people.”

Hence, Janaid’s Salon for Men came to fruition.

Mr. Kareem enjoys sharing his business knowledge whenever it’s possible, particularly among potential minority business owners who have big aspirations like he did back when he was studying under Mr. Buck.

Mr. Kareem taught an entrepreneurial education program in Dover known as The Launcher Program two years ago that graduated 16 individuals who spent 12 weeks learning marketing and financial strategies, while finalizing their personal business plans in a classroom setting.

The initiative came to Dover from Wilmington’s West End Neighborhood House through a M&T Bank grant. Dover nonprofit NCALL hosted the class as part of its Restoring Central Dover program.

Just like them, Mr. Kareem had a dream and brought it to life. It’s still going strong 30 years later.

Nowadays, people come from all around to get a haircut and enjoy a little bit of camaraderie with Mr. Kareem and his staff of stylists. There’s a steady stream of chatter about daily events, common acquaintances and anything else that might pop out into the air when somebody is sitting in one of the chairs at the roomy salon.

Retirement isn’t on the horizon just yet, the salon owner said.

“I don’t know if I will (retire),” he said. “My Uncle Sam owns a barbershop down the street, Wayne and Sammy’s Barbershop (at 315 West Loockerman St.). I’ll bet if you walk down the street right now he’s watching ‘The Young and the Restless.’ There might be no one in the shop, so I might end up like my Uncle Sam. That doesn’t seem like too bad of a deal, actually (laughs).”

Then, as another customer gets up out of the chair, it’s time to give another haircut.