The interior of Philly Cuts at 4409 Chestnut St. Credit: Clifton Jackson / Billy Penn

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The sound of clippers etching against a canvas of hair. The murmur of easy, familial conversations popping up between barber’s chairs. This is the daily atmosphere at Philly Cuts.

Located on 44th and Chestnut, the unisex barbershop and salon of 25 years creates an atmosphere of comfort and openness for their community and clients.

“Philly Cuts is a vital source — or maybe even a major vessel — that lets you know what is happening in the community,” barber Khabir Jackson told Billy Penn. “It is the place that keeps your ears to the street.”

More than just a place to get your hair done, the West Philly establishment offers networking, job training, and supports an anti-violence agenda.

Even first-time clients find comfort at the shop.

“I like coming here. The people and the energy seem very calming. It feels easy to vibe with. I mean, even the music is nice and relaxing,” said a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania who was visiting for the first time.

A player on the Penn Quakers, he said he’d been trying to find a location to get his twists redone and discovered Philly Cuts via a teammate’s recommendation. “Coming in here somewhat reminds me of being in the back of my mom’s car. It just gives off that family-like energy” he said.

Under the direction of owner and founder Daryl Thomas, the shop offers various programs and opportunities for local youth, from lash classes to a barber mentorship program that teaches different styles of haircutting in the downstairs room.

Two college-age friends find a spot to hang out at Philly Cuts Credit: Clifton Jackson / Billy Penn

“Every week, we always try to find something to better the community, or to include the community to let them know that they do have a place to go,” said hairstylist Chanee Wiggins.

Wiggins started her career at age 9 by braiding her sister’s hair, she said. Before long, she was doing the whole basketball team at her school and getting paid for her efforts, sometimes mimicking unique styles such as Allen Iverson’s.

Now an Empire Beauty School graduate, Wiggins has officially worked for Philly Cuts for the past year, but said she has been affiliated with them for four-plus years.

“I used to work at the hair salon next door and we always shared clients,” she explained, “And then I eventually started working here … and we still do the same thing. It’s a well-oiled working machine.”

Philly Cuts at 4409 Chestnut St. Credit: Clifton Jackson / Billy Penn

Outside of that environment, everyone at Philly Cuts recognizes the ongoing unrest that plagues their community.

“It’s our youth between the ages of 13 and 18 that are killing each other,” longtime barber James Brown, also known as JB, said in regards to the ongoing gun violence.

In his 24 years at Philly Cuts, Brown, a Henry trade-school graduate, has solidified himself as the manager of the establishment with his skills and experience.

Having lived in the city for 49 years, he described watching Philly become something he couldn’t stand.

“I’m hurt. And I’m bothered because I have what you call skin in the game,” Brown said. “Skin in the game means that I have children [in Philly] running around with other children that are committing the violence and that are selling the drugs.”

As of mid-November, there have been at least 459 homicide victims in Philadelphia this year, per statistics from the Office of the City Controller. Of those, the grand majority  — 94% — were caused by gun-related violence. Seventy-nine of those victims were African-American men between the ages of 13 and 21.

All ages are welcome in the Philly Cuts barber chair Credit: Clifton Jackson / Billy Penn

Despite these issues,  Brown affirmed that Philly Cuts allows the community to experience “love, peace, and harmony,” which he said helps occupy young people’s minds and keep them off the gun-heavy streets.

Wiggins echoed that idea. “Instead of being out on the streets, we are offering them, you know, jobs after school or just some place for them to go … or general information that most young Black people don’t know how to get to.”

Store owner Thomas, who is described by Brown as the “backbone” of the neighborhood, has made efforts that go beyond running a business.

As a candidate for the 190th state House District seat in 2019, Thomas said he wanted to introduce bills and resolutions that would serve communities such as his own.

One of the Howard University graduate’s platforms advocated for proper zoning laws in addition to maintaining public school funding for the youth.

“[Darryl] is a remarkable store owner, business man, and father. He definitely has his eye on the prize in terms of the pulse for the community,” said barber Jackson.

Getting a trim at Philly Cuts Credit: Clifton Jackson / Billy Penn

With seven years under his belt at the shop, Jackson has made himself a home there.  When not doing haircuts, he can be seen doing push-ups, or reps with his weights that sit next to his chair.

Asked what makes Philly Cuts stand out he had an easy answer: “We give out the best product. Our turnover ratio is impeccable and the expertise of my fellow co-workers is remarkable.”

To the staff, Philly Cuts is a community within its own community. A place that builds not only externally, but also internally.

“We look at ourselves like a cake,” Brown said. “One person brings the eggs, another person brings the flour, another person brings the icing. And when we put all those ingredients together, it makes a pretty decent fluffy cake.”

Clifton Jackson is Billy Penn's newsroom intern. He's a native Philadelphian who grew up and lives in South Philly.