One strong woman, Valerie Roberts, has kept Eddie’s Barbershop going since she took over from her father in the 1960s, earning the title of one of New Jersey’s oldest Black-owned businesses.
Before she took over, Roberts felt that the Asbury Park neighborhood in New Jersey would need more time to be ready for a female barber. She didn’t want to go through the hassle of people in the city being surprised to find a lady barber in the area and was ready to find fortune elsewhere. But, on the suggestion of her father, she stayed.
“I told my father I was going back to New York because this city isn’t ready for a lady barber. He told me if you run from difficult situations, I’d never make it in life,” the 80-year-old said to NJ.com in an interview.
Edward Hilton, Roberts’ father, opened the barbershop on Springwood Avenue near Dewitt in 1940, and when his health began to worsen after running the business for almost 20 years, Roberts took over Eddie’s Barbershop.
Roberts had to persevere in difficult circumstances to keep her business afloat. She revealed that the shop was nearly destroyed by the race riots in the 1970s – a seven-day riot that began on July 4, 1970, after months of rising tensions in the Black community amid worries that the needs of residents were not being addressed.
“That Fourth of July was one of the scariest days I can remember,” she recalled to the outlet. “Cops stood on the track with rifles ready to shoot anyone trying to cross over into the nicer part of Asbury.
She shared that a friend of hers helped her to remove everything in the shop during the looting and hid it in his grocery store. “It wasn’t easy, but we survived,” she said.
Eddie’s Barbershop has left a mark in the history of the community, and people praised her tenacity for being able to keep running the business for so long. Recognizing the longevity of the business and the strength of its owner, Asbury Park City Councilwoman Yvonne Clayton remarked, “Eddie’s has been a staple in the community for years. The fact that she has preserved and hasn’t left the community speaks to the fight she has within her.”
Eugene Berry, a loyal customer, has been getting his hair cut at Eddie’s Barbershop for over 20 years and intends to keep the tradition going. “Val is an example of what Asbury Park should be,” Berry remarked. “She’s a living example of perseverance and the only one I’d let touch these curls.”
Roberts has a plan to continue the running barbershop and one day pass it on to her grandson, although her love for her community and job doesn’t seem to be waning anytime soon.