Barber criticizes exclusion from hair care voucher program

by Pierce Wilson | 11/14/19 2:00am

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The owners of Hanover Haircutters assert that their business should be eligible for OPAL's hair care voucher program.

by Olympia Nagel-Caland / The Dartmouth

Co-owners of Hanover Haircutters Ryan and Robert Romano, a father-son duo, have voiced criticism of the Office of Pluralism and Leadership’s hair care voucher program, which serves low-income communities on campus by offsetting the cost of hair care. The Romanos said that the vouchers can only be used at one barbershop in Hanover, unduly benefiting the operations of one shop over others. 

OPAL hair care vouchers can only be used at The People’s Barbershop and Shave Parlor, which has been open for nearly two months as of this week. Sean Taylor, the owner of the shop, had previously had a relationship with the College through a previous iteration of OPAL’s hair care program, wherein he visited campus once a month to provide haircuts ­— primarily to black students. Since the opening of his shop, Taylor’s partnership with OPAL hair care has continued — students are able to use $20 vouchers from OPAL to receive a discount at the People’s Barbershop and Shave Parlor. 

Ryan Romano, who moved to Hanover recently to join his family’s business, said that OPAL’s voucher program, its partnership with the People’s Barbershop and the news coverage surrounding the program and barbershop opening not only created an unfair business advantage, but also conveys the message that the People’s Barbershop is the only place in town for black hair care. 

“Anybody who has hair, we can cut it,” Ryan Romano said. “So, my question was — and you know I hope that he does well out there, I’m not against that. My question is, why is the voucher only being promoted through his shop as only to be used at his shop. I feel like it should be any shop that somebody chooses.”  

Romano said that he had previously reached out to OPAL about his desire to take part in the program, but he claimed that they were unreceptive to his request, noting that OPAL would only be working with The People’s Barbershop for the time being. 

Representatives from OPAL were unable to be reached for comment for this article.

"Dartmouth has partnered with barber Sean Taylor to provide hair care for black students for the past three years," wrote College spokesperson Diana Lawrence in an email statement. "We welcome the opportunity to work with additional hair care specialists."

Romano said that Hanover Haircutters has a large black clientele, and he worries that the OPAL hair care vouchers will unfairly draw that clientele away from Hanover Haircutters and into The People’s Barbershop and Shave Parlor. 

“We have a lot of black clientele, so do we lose our clientele all of a sudden because they say, ‘Oh wow, I can go get a voucher and get a haircut over there?” Ryan Romano asked. 

Romano said that he understands the difficulty black students face in finding hair care services on campus. He added that when he used to cut hair in Vermont, he had black clients who would drive from hours away to see him as they could not receive hair care services elsewhere. 

“But the thing is, we can do it, and we’re willing to participate [in OPAL hair care], so why can’t we?” he asked.

However, not all hair care businesses in town expressed concern about the voucher program. Tanzi’s Salon hosts a stylist brought to Hanover by OPAL on select dates each term. Owner Heather Blake said the opening of the The People’s Barbershop and Shave Parlor and the OPAL hair care voucher program have not impacted her business, as salons and barbershops typically draw different crowds. 

“There’s a big need for someone who can cater to thick hair,” Blake said.