William Winters and Gary Hooker

Dawn Cauthen-Thornton | March 15th, 2018
William Winters and Gary Hooker (Photo by Jerry Barbry)

William Winters and Gary Hooker (Photo by Jerry Barbry)

Over the phone, I can hear lots of hustle and bustle in the background of Mr. Groom Room Barbershop. Customers are talking and laughing and clippers are buzzing. I’m imagining the barbers leaning in to make the perfect edge up before sending their client out the door.

The upscale men’s barbershop is a popular gathering spot in the black community in Raleigh. It’s the vision of William Winters and his younger brother Gary Hooker who were both born and raised in the city. Gary is already an entrepreneur, owning an entertainment company, a real estate company, and runs a nonprofit with his wife. In 2016, he committed to helping his brother after he successfully bounced back from years of hardships.

As a college student at North Carolina Central University, William would cut hair for the other students. Even during his three-year career in the Navy, he found himself earning a few extra bucks by flipping on his clippers then too. Between short-lived stints of sensibility, William worked in various barbershops around the city of Raleigh for 20 years until a friend mentioned he should actually become licensed. He eventually attended Park West Barber School in Raleigh and was official shortly thereafter. But he will be the first to tell you, the road wasn’t easy.

William isn’t shy about his past lifestyle. He openly talks about it with conviction and honesty. “I’m a recovering addict and was homeless. I fractured a few laws and ended up in the state penitentiary.” He was also stealing from and lying to family members to feed his habit – a far stretch from what you see today. Now he’s a bowtie-wearing, hair-cutting, business-owning, man of faith with endless possibilities.

“I didn’t let those decisions stop me. What I did doesn’t define who I am, “says William. Being from the Raleigh area and connected to N.C. State University, the barber who reclaimed his life, uses the late Jim Valvano’s motto, ‘Never give up’, as a motivator. He persevered through those moments of defeat and despair and uckily, his efforts didn’t go unnoticed. Among those paying attention was his brother, who always wanted to see William succeed.

“There was a time when my wife and I wouldn’t even let him into our home. We would speak to him at the door. For over 25 years, he was lost. But now we have a great relationship. I finally have my brother back,” Gary says proudly.

Initially when his big brother approached him about the idea of investing in a shop, Gary was hesitant. He wanted William to show him he was ready instead of just telling him. During this same time, the men’s father fell ill and was getting worse daily. Gary vividly remembers the last meaningful conversation he had with his father. It involved needing guidance on whether or not to trust William and partner up. “My father told me it was time. He felt like William was ready and that I should give him a chance.” Gary did just that. Almost one year to the day, Mr. Groom Room was open for business. Gary self-financed William’s dream of a relaxing atmosphere, complete with jazz music, beverages, and a mature environment, and they are still debt free.

In addition to Gary’s assistance, William cherish’s the hard work of all the barbers and stylists who make up his amazing team – Keyshawn Robinson, Tanya Thompson, and Nasif Ervin, help make it what it is today.

He has come a long way, but William doesn’t forget the struggles he faced and likes to extend a helping hand to those who are still fighting their way back. When most shops are closed on Sunday, Mr. Groom Room is open and busy providing free haircuts to the homeless twice a month. In February, William was honored by WRAL-Sports with the Sports Shop Salute to Champions Award and in March will receive Greensboro’s Celebrating Life Award – ‘Honoring those who have overcome life’s tremendous struggles’.

Within the next 10 years William and Gary would like to expand Mr. Groom Room to several other locations as a franchise. “We’re offering services of uptown Raleigh and bringing it to the southside at reasonable prices,” says William.

When asked about what he would change about his path, he affirms that he wouldn’t change a thing, as it led him to where he is now

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