East Side Barbershop Earns City Recognition CRA grant helps turn run-down auto shop into a community cornerstone

More than 50 members of the Gainesville community gathered together to celebrate outstanding contributions to the city’s aesthetic and social beauty during the presentation of the 2019 City of Gainesville Beautification Awards ceremony.

The Historic Thomas Center

The annual awards programs, held at the Historic Thomas Center, recognizes businesses and projects that exhibit excellence in design and improve the livability of Gainesville and its surrounding areas. In total, 19 projects ranging from The Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center to the UF/IFAS Honeybee Lab to Hogtown Creek Nature Park were recognized.

“The awards ceremony is a wonderful tradition,” said Urban Forestry Inspector and City Beatification Board Liaison Liliana Kolluri. “This is an opportunity for the city to thank people in our community for their involvement and support. It also helps to encourage development, both large and small, that aims to benefit the community at-large.”

Projects are evaluated for originality, innovation and creativity, as well as for their sustainability, maintenance and use of serviceable materials. An award-winning site must exhibit appropriate land utilization and effective planning. All projects must result in the improvement of an area, property or neighborhood.

Willie Wims, owner of Wims Hair Studio, a barber shop located on SE. 13th Street was among the award recipients. Once a run-down auto-detailing shop, Wims Hair Studio is now a neighborhood cornerstone — serving not only as a barber shop, but also as a convening place for fellowship.

“It’s a pillar for the community,” Wims says of his shop.

For years, Wims has owned the vacant lot next door to his current studio space. The lot was often used as a dumping ground for trash and other refuse—making Wims the frequent recipient of notices from codes enforcement. When the building next door came up for sale he knew he had to buy it.

“I wanted to buy the space next door to bring it back to life. But, I also wanted to keep its history,” Wims said.

For 15 years Wims had operated his barber shop out of a rented building on 16th street but always dreamed of building his own barbershop on the east side of town.

The building, built in 1958, was in need of a serious overhaul, but Wims insisted that the original character of the building must remain in-tact.

The CRA (community redevelopment agency) awarded Wims a facade grant to help make his dream a reality. Work began immediately and the project was completed in December 2017.

The inside was gutted and completely refurbished with all new barber chairs and mirrors, but the original integrity of the exterior remained largely untouched. The colors chosen for the building were to blend in with the surrounding businesses and keep close to the original colors used. Azaleas and boxwoods were planted to line the building and walkways. New business signs and the quintessential barbers’ pole were installed.

The result: an award-winning beautification project that helped to improve and maintain a community asset.

“I was blown away by the award. I was very honored by it,” Wims said. “I have just the place in my shop where I’m going to hang it up.”

Friends, family and clients were in attendance at the awards ceremony and offered enthusiastic cheers as Wims accepted his well-deserved award.

“It was clear that this ceremony was more than just a recognition of aesthetics, but rather a show of community spirit, empowerment and love,” said Karissa Raskin, civic collaboration specialist with the City of Gainesville.

Raskin and a team of community representatives were also recognized during the evening for their establishment of a community garden at Fred Cone Park. The community garden is flourishing and so is its capacity for bringing people together.

Karissa Raskin, civic collaboration specialist with the City of Gainesville and her team receive a beautification award for the Fred Cone Community Garden
“Our garden is not just a place where we grow food, but a place where we can grow relationships and celebrate the family we’ve created together,” Raskin said.

As for Wims, he’s not done bringing beauty to the east. Adjoining properties, including his vacant lot, are being looked at for further development. Perhaps a barbershop school to mentor kids in the neighborhood, he says.

“We can show them a trade. I think our community needs it. Plus we only have two barbershops on the east side of town,” Wims notes.

One thing is for certain, Wims has created a place that residents can be proud of, and he has charted a course for others to follow in his footsteps.


Jaime Smith, Bosshardt Reality

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