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The Voice of the Black Community


Popular upscale barbershop earns reprieve at SouthPark Mall
Management company reverses course on termination
Published Thursday, March 4, 2021 8:00 pm
by Ashley Mahoney

Knights of the Razor, an upscale Black-owned barbershop in SouthPark Mall, counts among its supporters former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl (center). The shop, which was scheduled to lose its lease on April 1, will remain after Simon Properties reversed course on terminating the deal.

No Grease Inc. has been a cornerstone in Charlotte since 1997.

Damian and Jermaine Johnson, the twin brothers who own a chain of barbershops and barber school, expanded their business in November when they signed a one-year lease with SouthPark Mall for a new shop, Knights of the Razor. Simon Properties, which operates the mall, informed the Johnsons on Feb. 22 their lease would be terminated effective April 1 to make way for a permanent tenant.

Simon Properties has since reversed its stance to allow the shop, which opened in January, to stay for the full term.

“We have never experienced anything like this,” Damian Johnson said. “We have other relationships with them at other locations, so we are very familiar with the process. We even understand temporary contracts but based off our relationship and our expressed interest in a permanent lease, we thought that we would have an opportunity to have a permanent lease.”

Simon Properties could not be reached for comment for this story, but on Tuesday released a statement: “We have always had a positive working relationship with Mr. Damian Johnson and Mr. Jermaine Johnson. We currently have five No Grease barbershop locations with them at Concord Mills (2 locations), Charlotte Premium Outlets, Sugarloaf Mills and SouthPark Mall and are open to adding more locations in the future based on their interest."

Simon Properties could cancel the agreement as long as the Johnsons received a 30-day notice of termination. Singing a temporary lease is not common for No Grease but given the circumstances of the pandemic and existing relationships with Simon Properties, the Johnsons did, with the intent to pursue a long-term deal down the road.

Permanent leases range from 5-10 years, and do not include the caveat for early termination.

SouthPark surprise
The termination caught the Johnsons by surprise. Their relationships with Simon Properties, whose corporate headquarters are located in Indianapolis, Indiana, spans over a decade. They’d never encountered anything like it.

“Even entertaining a temporary lease, which is not normal for us, we were considering the times we were in,” Damian said. “Our thinking was that everyone doesn’t know what is happening and a one-year contract during a pandemic makes sense. We just trusted the relationship and the respect that we have with each other. Everybody understands what the [business] climate is. It was a surprise, in less than 45 days, to get a termination letter.”

With 10 shops and a barber school on Wilkinson Boulevard, it was time to expand to SouthPark—one of the most affluent shopping center in the region. They already have existing locations at Simon Properties, such as Concord Mills and Sugarloaf Mills in Lawrenceville, Georgia.

“We thought the natural evolution of No Grease in Charlotte was SouthPark Mall,” Damian said. “We started to have conversations about SouthPark management about opportunities to put a location there. At that time, they said they didn’t have any permanent leases available. The only thing they had available was a temporary lease, but because of our relationships with Simon Properties, we have been in a relationship with them for over 10 years, we discussed that we were interested in a permanent lease, but because it wasn’t available we would do the temporary lease with the hopes of a permanent opportunity.”

According to the Johnsons, SouthPark management informed them they were impressed with their work at Knights of the Razor when they met last month, but it was not enough.

“They said we had exceeded everything they had thought or was told about us,” Damian said. “They were pleased with us, but unfortunately they had found a permanent tenant and would be terminated April 1.”

Buffalo born, Charlotte bred for business
The brothers were born and raised in Buffalo, New York, but consider themselves entrepreneurial sons of Charlotte. They opened the first No Grease shop at 3731 N. Sharon Amity Road across from the former Eastland Mall site 23 years ago.

“It was the hot place to be,” Damian said.

Today they own that property.

Their entrepreneurial spirit was fostered by their mother, Ann, a stylist.

“We are from Buffalo, but we also say we were raised and we became men and businessmen here in Charlotte,” said Damian, who arrived in 1991 to attend Johnson C. Smith University. “When we took the journey to open our first No Grease in 1997 that was the pursuit—the pursuit of entrepreneurship and building something from nothing. Entrepreneurs take pride in that, being creatives and ultimately just building a business that people can thrive and grow in. That has always been our motivation.

“It’s almost a quarter of a century now—it sounds crazy. Opening up a barber school 17 years ago, we have students here who have opened up businesses. We have people who have worked with us for years and been in the community. It could be a guy I was cutting when he was 10 years old, and now he is in his 30s, and he brings his son to the shop. The roots run deep here in Charlotte.”

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