Growing up in East Cleveland and a graduate of Shaw High School, Waverly "Big Wave" Willis has been cutting hair since he was a kid. After high school, Willis was tempted by a life of trouble. "I was a street guy," he recalls. "But I wanted to leave that lifestyle alone. I thought about leaving town."
Instead Willis moved to Cleveland's west side and went the business route. He opened Urban Kutz Barbershop at W. 111th Street and Detroit in 2008. Willis did so well, he opened a second location on Pearl Road in 2014 and the shop was voted best barber shop on the 2015 Cleveland Hot List.
Urban Kutz caters to all types of customers. The only caveat is you must have a good time when you're in the shop. "We're a diverse barber shop," Willis says. "We get a myriad of Clevelanders, people of all races. During your time in the barber shop, be it 15 minutes or an hour, we do have a good time."
Willis cites a recent day when he had a customer from Vietnam, a customer from London and two customers from the United States sitting in his chairs. Urban Kutz is well respected in the LGBT community. "You can't be homophobic or racist," says Willis. "Everybody is welcome. Our clientele and diversity is really what sets us apart. When people come through here we have a good time, we just talk about stuff."
When Willis learned Cleveland would host the Republican National Convention in 2016, he started to notice an uptick in customers. He estimates each location began seeing an increase of two to 10 people a week, all with some affiliation to the Convention. So he promptly signed Urban Kutz up for the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee supplier list. Almost instantly, Willis began to see an even more diverse customer base emerge.
"We have seen a significant amount of people doing some type of work with the Convention," Willis explains. "I didn't expect to see anything until next summer. "We had a North Carolina guy here who was in Cleveland specifically to wash windows. We had another guy doing security detail. We've been getting a lot of business from people from the Convention already. I'm really looking forward to the Convention when they get here next year."
When Willis isn't busy with running his two shops, training staff as a licensed barber instructor and meeting people affiliated with the Convention, he's spends his time doing charity work. Most recently, both locations participated in a winter coat drive with 93.1 radio personality Sam Silk. Willis is active with The Urban Barber Association (TUBA) and The Barbershop Literacy Project and works with several area shelters.
It all fits with Willis' mission. "I try to do my best," he says. "I feel so fortunate. From the moment we opened our doors we were received so well."