Homer Wilson started cutting hair at age 15, in 1960. He learned the trade from his father, M.C. Wilson, who opened Wilson’s Styling Shop on N. Hull Street in the mid-1960s in the historic black business district in downtown Athens — an area known as Hot Corner.
Hot Corner was once home to 66 black businesses during its peak in the 1950s-1970s. After integration, many of the businesses moved to other areas of Athens and nearby outlet malls. Wilson took over his father’s shop in 2008 after his father passed away — the shop is now one of the few original businesses left on Hot Corner.
Larry Johnson, Wilson’s cousin, said the “people who brought in the concept of being professional” were family.
Wilson’s Styling Shop now mostly employs apprentices, Wilson said. The shop has been a “training shop” that has lead others to open their own businesses. Wilson said there are multiple businesses around Athens that were started by apprentices from the shop.
Close to town
Though many businesses from Hot Corner have moved elsewhere, the downtown area is one reason Wilson has kept the barbershop in that location for so long.
“I’m just kind of a downtown person, so that’s why I stayed here,” Wilson said.
Wilson said that many of his other family members operate businesses elsewhere, including his brother Talmadge Wilson who owns Wilson’s Hair World on Hawthorne Avenue.
Wilson’s Styling Shop was featured on Episode 1 of “Trigger Warning with Killer Mike,” a Netflix show created by the famous Atlanta rapper and member of the group Run the Jewels.
Ever since, people have come in wanting to see the shop after learning about it on Netflix or social media. Many have stayed for a shave or trim up, Wilson said.
Wilson said he has stayed downtown because of the people, stating he meets “all kind of people,” including those from other universities.
“Home games, our customers come earlier in the week,” Wilson said about business on home football game days. “That gives the avenue for other people to come in.”
Hair to stay
Johnson noted that one reason for Wilson’s sustained business is that he “gives a good haircut” and can do many styles. Around the walls inside of Wilson’s Styling Shop are various “barber hairstyle guides” showing pictures of various haircuts.
But aside from a good haircut, a possible reason for the shop’s longevity is that the barbershop is a place for community.
“It has always been said that barbershops and beauty shops know all the business of the community,” Wilson said.
Patrick Nolan, a senior bartender at The World Famous next to Wilson’s shop, has been getting his hair cut by Wilson for 50 years and described Wilson as “infectiously joyful” and an “icon in the community.”
Preserving the legacy
Not only has Wilson sustained his business in downtown Athens, but he has also become a community leader in the preservation of the Hot Corner legacy.
In 1999, Wilson started the Hot Corner Association, which puts on a weekend-long festival every year. The Hot Corner Festival just had its 19th annual celebration in June 2019, and the Association wants to “do something big” for the 20th annual celebration in June 2020, aiming to extend the festival to an entire seven days, Wilson said.
“It has always been said that barbershops and beauty shops know all the business of the community."
-Homer Wilson, owner
The purpose of the festival is to highlight the history of Hot Corner as a once-thriving black business district, Wilson said.
The state’s first black female dentist worked in the Hot Corner district in the Morton Building at 195 W. Washington St. Other businesses included lawyers and jewelers, Wilson said.
Hot Corner icons, including Wilson, were memorialized in a mural painted on Washington Street over the summer by Miami-based artist Elio Mercado, with assistance from local artist Broderick Flanigan. The mural was officially celebrated during a ceremony on Aug. 21.
“This is what it is all about ... the earth is just one house, and we’ve got to learn to live in this house together,” Wilson said to the crowd at the ceremony.
In addition to preserving the legacy of Hot Corner, Wilson believes another way to give back to the community is to provide scholarships.
“We are helping people to get an honest living, that we are helping them with knowledge,” Wilson said about what Hot Corner means to him. “The past, the present and getting ready for the future.”