Newark barber gives more than the 'Wright Cut' for 57 years

By Barry Carter | The Star-Ledger
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on June 21, 2016

Don't look at the flecks of grey in his mustache and razor-thin sideburns. Ignore the hair that has thinned on top of his head.

And if you don't mind, excuse the old-school wood paneling and the water splotches on the drop ceiling at the Wright Cut Beauty & Barber Salon on Clinton Avenue.

These undeniable clues make it clear that Curtis Wright Jr. has been cutting hair in Newark for a long time. Try 57 years at three barbershops in the city's North and South wards, including this one.

"I'm just happy I'm in good health and that I can still do it,'' he said.

But the best reminder of his longevity is a subtle telltale sign next to his barber chair. The floor tile is so worn that the wood beneath it is exposed.

It's a small spot, but big enough to notice that Wright, 78, has walked a path into the lives of customers over three generations.

Unless you look down, it's hard to believe that could be done in soft-soled shoes, but then again, remarkably, Wright has because he's rarely missed a day of work since he started cutting hair.

His ironman tally stacks up this way - 36 years at the Wright Cut shop that he's owned since 1980 in the South Ward.  Now, let's rewind 14 years before that – to his second barbershop, which he opened in 1966 down the street from where he is currently located. Then go on back another seven years to 1959. He left the Army as its barber, doing buzz cuts, to begin trimming hair at his first barbershop job, working for a Newark couple who owned the business in the North Ward.

Wright's unbending, workhorse ethic hasn't changed no matter where he's hung his clippers.

By 6:30 a.m. or shortly thereafter, he's at work, having made the 24-mile drive from his home in Edison.

"I feel like I owe the customer,'' Wright said.

He's a man of few words, a study in consistency. There's no need for him to say a lot to back up his gold-seal standard.

The customers attest to that, bringing their sons, grandsons, nephews and cousins. Some of them, such as the Rev. Arthur Jackson, have been with Wright since he started.

Talk about loyal.

Jackson, who drives to the shop from Piscataway, said Wright keeps him looking young at 89 years old, and he doesn't have to worry about his wife fussing about him getting a bad haircut.

"He's one of a few good men – like the Marines,'' Jackson said.

The ladies don't complain about his beauty skills, either. That includes Alma Wright, his wife of 53 years. He does her hair, too. Perms and curls.  Wash and set. Trimming the ends.

 "I just go with whatever he goes with,'' she said.

 For the men, it could be skintight fades and Caesar cuts, or a shave with the straight razor he uses for beards, mustaches and hairlines covered in lather.

None of it is a problem at the Wright Cut. Customers come early and often, Tuesdays through Saturdays, since most of his business is walk-ins.

As a younger man, Wright had Sunday hours after church, for customers who were sick and couldn't make it to the shop.

"He would go to the hospital or to their home,'' his wife said. "He felt he needed to do something for the community.''

Wright never really thought about doing anything else once he found his niche. He's always at work, even sometimes on his off days, even during snowstorms when no one made it to the shop.

He's met many people along the way. Former Newark mayors Sharpe James and Kenneth Gibson are regulars. Former Newark police directors come often. Retired and current police officers show up, too, for a cut or to bring Wright a cup of coffee and the newspaper.

The Wright Cut is a mature shop, one with that lived-in look. There are magazines to read and mail stacked in a third barber chair. Pictures of customers from years gone by surround his mirror.

Tony Woodson, a retired East Orange deputy police chief, and his grandson, A.J., are smiling in one of the pictures, taken during a promotion ceremony. The boy was 8 years old; now, he's 16.

"You couldn't have picked a better man to write about,'' the older Woodson said.

There's a sense of family and tradition here. Decorum is the order of the day. Forget about wearing sagging pants, cursing or behaving less than respectfully.

"Mr. Wright don't play that,'' said Larry Walden, a retired Newark cop. "There's no acting a fool. Young men come here and get an education.''

They always learn something from the elder gentlemen, taking with them values of hard work from a generation that migrated north in the 1950s.

Deshone White of Newark is 40 – and hasn't missed a nugget of information since high school.

"If you're going through something, Mr. Wright knows what to say,'' White said. "You always leave here with something.''

Chalk that up to his perception and an intangible quality that O. Henry McKenzie has noticed over the 35 years that he's occupied Wright's barber chair.

"He understands people,'' said McKenzie, an 87-year-old retired Navy Seal who lives in Newark. "He knows how to listen, then ask questions.''

Wright has gone through life the right way since he left Lynchburg, S.C., a tiny town where he was raised. He's accomplished what he wanted to do – to be a successful businessman. He's trained beauticians and barbers, many who have come and gone over the years.

What we have here is the career of a man that should be framed with his best set of cutting shears.

Oh, and before I forget.

Remember that worn-out spot on the floor? Wright has done that twice. Should he patch it up one day, I'm sure he won't have a problem wearing it down again.

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment