Indianapolis barbershop opened one month before the pandemic hit – IndyStar

The 317 Project tells stories of life in all of Indianapolis’ vibrant neighborhoods – 317 words at a time.

Tommy Dotson walked into the building on the corner of West Berwyn Street and Holt Road in 2009, looking for a job to cut hair.

He walked out with rejection and a “dream.”

Now, a sign reading T.E.D’Z Barbershop hangs over the entry of that building. It belongs to Dotson.

The dream was almost lost in 2015, when he quit barbering because he wasn’t earning enough money to support his family.

He drove commercial trucks for a few years.

In 2018, his mom died, leaving him money through her life insurance policy.

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Tommy Dotson waits for his first customer of the day inside his barbershop, T.E.DÕZ Barbershop, in Indianapolis' Mars Hill neighborhood Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. Dotson used $15,000 of his savings, money left to him by his mother, to repair the old building and opened in February 2020. One month later, COVID-19 forced him to shut down. This was one of a series of obstacles Dotson has faced along the way to opening the shop. Despite the obstacles, he remains optimistic.

He saw a chance to revive the dream, walked back into that building, which had sat empty for years, and signed the lease in November 2019.

$15,000 worth of repairs remained: A leaky roof, mildewed walls, rotted floors and broken plumbing consumed most of the money left by his mom.

His plan was to continue driving trucks and cutting hair.

But he lost his job one month later when the company went bankrupt. 

“Wasn’t nothing I could do,” he said. “Just keep it moving.”

He applied for his barbershop license the same month and was denied. The review board had concerns about fines and fees associated with his felony conviction in 2013 for possession of marijuana.

“To get everything done and then get denied,” he said, “that was the biggest frustrating part.”

He sat before the board to appeal the denial, received approval and held his grand opening on Feb. 4, 2020, feeling “ecstatic.” 

Tommy Dotson waits for his first customer of the day inside his barbershop, T.E.DÕZ Barbershop, on Indianapolis' south side Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. Dotson used $15,000 of his savings, money left to him by his mother, to repair the old building and opened in February 2020, One month later COVID-19 forced him to shut down. This was one of a series of obstacles Dotson has faced along the way to opening the shop, but despite the obstacles, he remains optimistic.

One month later, COVID-19 forced him to close.

Dotson “had to figure out a way” to generate revenue. He applied for a retail license to sell candy, soda and chips, and re-opened in April.

He resumed cutting hair in June 2020 and has seen the business grow just enough to pay the bills for the barbershop.

“If I just hold on, hold on,” Dotson said, “eventually it’ll break through.”

Contact IndyStar reporter Brandon Drenon at 317-517-3340 or BDrenon@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BrandonDrenon.

Brandon is also a Report for America corps member with the GroundTruth Project, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization dedicated to supporting the next generation of journalists in the U.S. and around the world.

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