VUMC shuts down Oxford Barber Shop after 60 years of operation

More than 1,400 supporters have petitioned against the closing of one of the oldest barber shops in Nashville to make space for a new patient care facility.

Exterior of Oxford Barber Shop in black and white

The exterior of the old Oxford Barber Shop, photographed on December 4, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Jeremy Langsam)

Ryder Li, Staff Writer

Oxford Barber Shop, which has operated for over 60 years, is set to close on Dec. 31 after Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) terminated its lease with the shop according to the owner of the shop. 

The shop, a 300 square-foot space located on 21st Avenue South, is under the ownership of VUMC. BJ Holmes, a barber who has worked at Oxford for the past seven and half years, spoke to The Hustler about the timeline of VUMC’s decision and the impact it has on the community and the barbers.  

“Vanderbilt [VUMC] notified our owner in July that it will not renew the lease,” Holmes said. “The owner tried to negotiate with the school, and when that failed, the owner notified the employees in October that he was closing the shop.”

Holmes said the VUMC has informed the owner that the shop will be repurposed for patient care as the reason to discontinue their lease. 

John Howser, Chief Communications Officer at VUMC, released the following Dec. 7 statement to News Channel 5 Nashville regarding the decision.

“Due to the insatiable need for additional clinic capacity, this places a premium on every square foot of space, especially on our downtown Nashville campus,” Howser said. “For this reason, we have to continually think about how space is used now and how it might be repurposed to meet the needs of our patients.”

Prior to the decision to discontinue the lease, the shop had already faced struggles as a result of the pandemic but was kept afloat by the support of loyal customers and the community. 

“We started 2020 with six barbers, and now we are down to three,” Holmes said. “Our business went from full capacity now down to a third of the business the shop was once doing. However, the community has been amazing, and many people reached out to Vanderbilt in hope it could change its decision.”

According to Holmes, closing the shop will not only have repercussions for their client base but also the remaining employees. 

“One worker is deciding to move back home,” Holmes said. “The uncertainty of where we are going and trying to find a location close has been really difficult.” 

Holmes, along with another barber, are hoping to relocate the shop to continue its legacy.

While the shop’s employees are considering what’s next for them after the shop closes, the Vanderbilt student community has rallied in hopes of convincing the VUMC to change their decision. A petition started by sophomore Jeremy Langsam currently has over 1,400 signatures at the time of publication.

“Despite how hard [Oxford Barber Shop is] fighting to stay in business, Vanderbilt is choosing to pull their lease and is choosing to take away the space they have had for over 60 years; and that, to me, seems unfair and unjust,” Langsam said in a message to The Hustler. “All I am doing is all I can do to support them and hope my fellow students can do the same.”

While acknowledging the importance of having patient care resources, Langsam said that taking away the barber shop may not do much to mitigate the strain. 

“Oxford is maybe 300 squared feet and can cut three people’s hair at once,” Langsam said. “I don’t see how it could be a proper allocation of resources to shut them down to open a new patient care facility the size of a hospital room.”