Leibert Fitzgerald Lester, Jr., or Gee, started cutting hair when he was 13 years old. He found an old razor in the trash, and wanted to see if he could splice the chord together to get it working again — something he had seen his father do before. “I spliced it, I plugged it in,” he said, “but the blade wasn’t moving.” Lester put Crisco on the blade and got it working. Then he shaved his head.
“Because I had seven brothers, we didn’t go to the barbershop much,” he said. His mother had him cut his brothers hair. And then a neighbor with three kids asked him how much he charges. “I thought to myself, I only cut one style,” he said. “She said ‘just cut it off.’ I just started cutting. Then I became the $2.00 barber.”
Lester eventually learned a few more cut styles, and raised his rate to $5.00. He got kicked out of the electrical program at Prince Tech, and ended up in barbering. He cut hair through his years at Morehouse College, and found his way back to Hartford. “My parents wanted me to be a doctor,” he said. Instead, he opened It’s a Gee Thang in 1995.
The shop has grown over the years to his current location on Main Street. Lester has 40 chairs, salon and barber shop, pedicure and massage rooms, as well as a coffee bar. “When I built this place, I knew that I would use this as a platform to grow my business,” he said. Lester is accredited to teach barbering and cosmetology. He sees himself as not only a barber and an entrepreneur, but a teacher and a mentor. “Me building this place here, it was to inspire the young brothers,” he said. “I’ve seen little kids; they’ll come in, they’re more excited than I am that I built something. I know that that kid is inspired to one day believe that he can build something himself.” Lester is also working with ex-offenders to teach them career skills. He’s got a monthly forum called The Barbershop Chronicles that dives deeper into conversations on relationship, gender, or anything else you’d talk to your barber about.
Cheryl Whitecloud has been cutting hair for more than 30 years. She’s only been at It’s a Gee Thang for a few months. “I like the people I work with — the patrons, the clients. They’re friendly,” she said. One long-time patron is Rev. Aaron “Pop” Lewis. He comes to the barbershop twice a week, and has been doing so for 20 years. Talking about Gee, he refers to “triple M” — the man, the moral, and the movement. “He’s teaching other young kids without a father that they can always come to him and when they come to him he’s going to give them positive advice about how they should carry themselves, their appearance,” he said. “This is just not a barbershop. It’s a social service, too.”