Neighborhood Spotlight: Deon Santana of Astor Hair

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When I began to descend down the stairs of 2 Astor Place, I was immediately struck by the jubilant energy of this sunken oasis, that is Astor Place Hair Stylists. The luminescent carnival sign lured me from the mid-spring day’s wrestling sun and wind down a chilled white tunnel. A space that usually consists of an open floor with scattered haircutting stations had been divided into cubicles with transparent borders to maintain Covid regulations. While visually altering the open floorplan, the partitions cannot hinder the lively echoes that bounce across the shop. Chuckles, singing, and the occasional enthusiastic greeting maintain the shop’s reputable environment. 

 Today I had the pleasure of getting a straight edge shave from Brooklyn native Deon. At 12, Deon started cutting hair on the streets of Brownsville, Brooklyn. And 32 years later, in 2013, he made his move to an entirely new scene, situated at the converging point of several unique neighborhoods. He landed at Astor Place Hair, a shop boasting some of the most notorious barbers and hair professionals in the whole city and a just as impressive list of celebrity patrons. Over the past 8 years, Deon has made this store his home, embedding himself into its 75 year legacy of producing trend-setting barbers and stylists.  

Deon and I talked back and forth about New York City, bonding over our similar interest in young and old Brooklyn-born artists as Jay-Z played over the speakers. He explained how the diverse composition of the shop encompasses the mixing pot nature of New York City, citing the constant shift in genres of music across the shop’s speaker system as a prime example. With a roster of 40 barbers, Astor Place Hair takes pride in its ability to cater to residents, students, and workers, alluring people from a wide array of backgrounds to NoHo. Deon told me that there are only two things you can guarantee about someone who walks down the stairs into the shop, is that they need a cut and love New York City because you can find some of New York City’s biggest characters here.  

As most conversations, unfortunately, do nowadays, mine with Deon shifted to the hardships of Covid. He began to talk about the difficulties of adapting to constantly changing conditions and the uncertainty that accompanied Astor Place Hair’s frequent closing and re-opening. Deon and the rest of his companions were often doubtful about the prospect of the shop staying open through the thick of the pandemic. Right before owner Paul Vezza was about to throw the towel in, Landlord Jeffery Gural, a true New Yorker who can be found on some of the most significant boards across the city, stepped in. Gural offered to keep the space empty to give Vezza time to come up with a contingency plan. To everyone’s joyful surprise, a group of investors came in to offer financial support and ensure the survival of Astor Place Hair Stylists while allowing the Vezza family to continue running the shop in the same way it had been for the past 75 years.  

Deon believes that the local constituents of the business were the ones whose voices really saved Astor Place Hair, sharing amazing stories over social media when things seemed financially daunting for the shop. He even acknowledged Cozy’s Soup and Burgers as his favorite restaurant in the area, appreciating the grit that the neighboring famous diner showed in overcoming similar hardships.  

Deon kept applying the saying “Change takes time” to every subject we landed on throughout my visit. Rather than dreading the past, he was anticipating the successes bound to come. Deon certainly is not alone in adopting this mindset, as all of NoHo is behind him, supporting our historic local businesses and anticipating the growth and positive changes that have continuously swept across our community.    

Spotlight by Aaron Miller

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