As a rainy autumn evening settles over Paducah’s north side neighborhood, Mikia’s Place glows with life.
In the back of the bright blue building, beauticians of the Signature Styles salon tend women’s hair. In the front, just off Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, homegrown hip hop and R&B artists mix tracks in MBMG (Money Boy Music Group) Studio. In the core of the building, Big Mike’s Barbershop attracts a steady stream of neighbors, old friends and relatives.
"If you come in from out of town, and you haven't seen people for a long time, the barbershop is where you can find people," says Michael Taylor, the barber who opened Mikia's Place – and Big Mike's within it – in 2002, just a few blocks from his childhood home. "The barbershop is a safe haven," adds his friend, Ron Brisbon, another of the four barbers sharing space in Big Mike's. "It's a mixing place."
The barbershop is a hub of Paducah's black community. Stories radiate from it like spokes.
On any given day, the patrons may include high school students preparing for the homecoming dance or plumbers and electricians sharing bits of hard-won, homespun wisdom. Sons and fathers arrive, waiting to take turns under clippers of the same barber. A pastor, dressed to the nines, stops by for a spot of conversation before returning to his ministry a few blocks away, where he offers free hot meals to local children.
"We give back, too," says Michael. "Give haircuts for students who have good grades. Sometimes guys who get out of jail, the first place they come is the barbershop to get freshened up, get a hair cut. The first one is usually on the house."
After all, says Ron, "Everyone sees your hair. You gonna put on a hat, or you gonna walk around with your chin up? A good haircut builds character.”