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OLD TOWN CORNELIUS
Location: 21324 Catawba Ave, Cornelius, NC 28031
Potts Barbershop is the first black-owned barbershop in Cornelius, NC and has been in the same location on Catawba Avenue since 1952. The building was designated as a historic landmark in 2022, and the shop is the oldest business owned by African Americans in Cornelius. Along with being open for over 70 years, the barbershop broke racial barriers through integrating their shop as black barbers cutting white hair for 12 years before integration.
On the building’s east end, Potts Barber Shop has served several generations of Cornelius families for 63 years between two locations. It’s the oldest continually operated Black-owned business in Cornelius, perhaps even in north Mecklenburg County.
Ron Potts serves as an SCC board member. His father, Wilson Potts, founded the barbershop and Ron’s brother, Gerald “Mickey” Potts, still cuts hair at the shop their father opened in 1960. Gerald’s late wife Nannie Potts is another important piece of Cornelius history: She was the first and only African American mayor of Cornelius.
Jessica Boye serves as an SCC board member. She is instrumental in capturing and preserving the history of Potts Barbershop.
Wilson Potts began his career as a barber at Norton’s in the original Brick Row, and later worked for Blakely’s. After finishing barber school in 1956, he bought the place from Clarence Blakely a year later. It had a pool table, hot showers and was even a place to get your shoes shined.
The Potts Barber Shop building has been a prominent center of social activity. Potts was an early civic leader of the Smithville community, one of the oldest African American communities in north Mecklenburg County. One of Potts’ six children, Mickey, bought the business from his dad in 1988, but the patriarch continued barbering for another 10 years.
For more than a decade, Potts’ owner and employees were Black, yet all the customers were white. But in 1972, Potts Barber Shop became the town’s first racially integrated barber shop. Wilson Potts helped bring about integration to Cornelius.
It was long customary that barbers who were black did not cut black customers’ hair. This kind of segregation in Cornelius ended quietly in 1972 when a Black man entered the shop and asked for a haircut. Wilson Potts decided to go ahead, do the haircut, and then the new customer quietly left. Hair-cutting in Cornelius was integrated.
The buildings which house Potts Barber Shop consist of two separately constructed brick storefronts joined by a common party wall and façade. The west-side storefront was constructed by the Stough-Cornelius Co., whose original shareholders included town R.J. Stough and town namesake J.B. Cornelius.
Historical Landmark Status
On February 28, 2022, Potts Barber Shop officially received landmark status during Black History Month observations in downtown Cornelius in 2022. The Charlotte/Mecklenburg County Historic Landmarks Commission plaque was unveiled with members of the Potts family in attendance as well as elected officials.
“We are so very thankful and appreciative of this designation. Our thoughts on this day go back to our dad Wilson who started doing haircuts in 1926 in another spot,” said his son Ron Potts, representing the Potts family.
“The Potts Barber Shop is an important cultural and historic property for the Town of Cornelius and very worthy of the historic landmark designation,” said historic preservation advocate Abigail Jennings. “The Potts family’s contributions to our region should be preserved and shared with future generations. They have touched many lives over the years, and this is a well-earned accomplishment.”