Story and photos by Rodney Grimes
It was early in 1963 that Lester Knox started his long career in the barber business. Some of you may remember when Lester Knox & George Greathouse opened Esquire Barber Shop on 12th and Jefferson Street in the early 1960’s. At that time, Esquire was the 1st Black Barber Shop to open in East Phoenix in over 25 years. Situated in a very desirable East Phoenix location, Esquire Barber Shop immediately became the “in” barbershop for all the latest and up to date hairstyles. The Knox family was always very industrious, and Lester Knox, Sr. was certainly no exception. With Lester Knox’s business acumen and George Greathouse’s athletic name recognition, Esquire continued to be the go-to barbershop in Phoenix throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s.
As the 1970’s drew to a close, Lester Knox’s entrepreneurial spirit again began to stir, and Lester felt he could do just as well, if not better, by owning his own shop – and Natural Impressions Barber and Beauty Shop was born. Natural Impressions started out catering to a younger clientele and became an instant success. Moving closer to the major North-South corridor of 16th Street (at 1481 E Washington), Natural Impressions was positioned to be a dominant force in the African-American men and women hair care market in Phoenix.
Natural Impressions is a contemporary styling shop, roomy, but like most well established businesses, can get very busy. The women’s side is separated by a partial glass and wood-framed wall, providing subtle privacy. Both sides are clean and well lit, and the TV is usually on a sports channel or the news. Most folks walk-in through the back from the parking lot, and when you enter you are typically greeted by a smile – if not a hello. I’m reminded that before my youngest son Isaac left for the Bay-Area, this was his barbershop, and as Lester Sr. would always call me by my dad’s name, everyone still continues to call me Ben. Needless to say, the atmosphere here is warm and cordial. Yes – politics, sports and the current news topics are frequently discussed, but never too heated, as there is usually a youngster or two waiting for the next chair.
When a customer rises from the barber chair, Ronnie Hart, the Customer Service Valet is quick to brush off any excess hair, and keeps all the seated areas clean for each customer. Ronnie has been with Natural Impressions continuously for at least 15 years. While speaking with Britton (Britt) Knox, Lester Knox, Sr.’s son who manages the business, Britt says, “My dad always had loyal and committed barbers and employees who helped to grow our business, and that is as true now as it was back in the late 1970’s.” Britt has embraced the role of manager at Natural Impression as Lester Sr. has become less active after over 50 years in the business. Helping Britt is his brother Lester, Jr who recently returned to the “2nd Chair” and he has over 15 years of experience as a barber. Perry Hinton who handles the “3rd Chair” has been with Natural Impressions for over 25 years. Perry said with a chuckle “I started at Natural Impressions the day after I finished Barber College”. In the “4th Chair” is Mike Adams who has been a barber for 3 years – yet is still quite busy. In the “5th Chair” is Joyce Reynolds one of the few (if not the only) Black female barbers in Phoenix. She has been a barber for over 25 years and joined Natural Impressions after the closure of Esquire Barber Shop. Handling the “6th Chair” is Henry “Doc” Weaver who has been a barber for close to 50 years. “Doc” also joined Natural Impressions after the closure of Esquire. Sherry Johnson handles Adrianne’s Beauty Salon at Natural Impressions. Sherry has over 33 years experience, and she also came over after the closure of Esquire. It is clear that years of experience and close ties to the community have earned Natural Impressions’ true legendary status in Phoenix.
Britt says, like his dad, he is very fortunate to have such a well-seasoned staff, and he is excited about the future as he is proud of the reputation and heritage his dad created with Natural Impressions. As Lester Sr. said, “We have been vested, and have invested in this community for over 50 years”.
Britt says stop on by for chat, even if you don’t have time for a cut or a fade or a trim. Open Tuesday through Saturday from 8am to 6pm and closed on Sunday & Monday. Natural Impressions Barber Shop at 1418 E. Washington Street, Phoenix, 85034. 602-262-9296.