Gee’s Clippers, one of Milwaukee’s biggest and most successful barbershops, is back on King Drive after having been closed for more than three years. To celebrate, the King Drive Business Improvement District and others turned the barbershop into a nightclub of sorts on a recent weeknight, and held the first-ever Made on King Drive networking event.
Gee’s left its location at 2215 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in October 2010 due to parking problems. The shop had 20 barber chairs and lots of customers, but no off-street parking of its own. Gee’s owner, Gaulien “Gee” Smith, had planned to use a vacant lot to the north of the barbershop, but the city owned the lot and was looking for a developer to build there. So Smith closed his King Drive shop.
After considerable lobbying, the city relented and now the vacant lot is an off-street 51-space parking area, and Smith has reopened his shop. The invitation-only “Made on King Drive” event was organized to give young professionals from around the city a chance to meet, great and listen to stories from some of the long-time business owners on King Drive, including Smith.
Smith grew up in Milwaukee in a family with seven kids. His dad, a bus driver and handyman, couldn’t afford to pay a barber to cut his six boys’ hair, so he did it himself. At the age of 12, Smith picked up the clippers (with his mom’s permission) and discovered he was much better at cutting hair than his dad. He soon had a clientele in the neighborhood.
After barber college, he went to work at Carol’s New Image on Fond du Lac and Capitol Drive. When that shop closed, he opened his own barbershop in 1995 at 4327 W. Fond du Lac Ave. He’s still at that location, and added the King Drive shop in 2006.
“We have young professionals, future leaders of the city, movers and shakers from all over Milwaukee here,” said Matt Sabljak of Caffeine Communications, which represents the King Drive BID. “We have a crowd that’s representative of all the neighborhoods of Milwaukee.
“This neighborhood has a rich legacy of being a melting pot,” Sabljak added. “There was great food, great entertainment. The area admittedly suffered for a bit, but there’s been a strong revitalization, a lot of development here.”