Tucked away in a strip center on Broadway near Bellfort is an old-style barber shop, I-C-U Lookin Barber Studio — evidence that consistency, personal service, and concern for the neighborhood are still a winning combination.

Owner Tony Freeman has been cutting hair for 32 years, the most recent five years at this location.

Freeman started cutting his brothers’ hair when he was 14 and asked his mother for clippers for his birthday. She got some at Walgreens.

“So that’s how I started out, just teaching myself,” Freeman said.

Along the way, he became a licensed barber in 1999. He studied business, earning a bachelor’s degree at Sam Houston State University and a master’s from the University of Phoenix.

“I had odd jobs here and there, but my goal was always to be a business owner,” he said.

Before relocating to the Hobby area, Freeman had a shop near Interstate 45 and Fuqua. However, it had a problem — it didn’t have enough walk-in traffic. He started looking around his neighborhood to support the barbers who worked with him. Finding the location was literally by accident.

“There was an accident on 45, and it brought me to come down Airport and hit Broadway and come up this way,” he said.

He saw the space for lease and moved into it.

“It has helped me grow. This area definitely needed the shop. We serve a lot of kids or people who are working or looking for work, and they come here to look good,” Freeman said.

Consistency and service have led to repeat business with neighborhood clients and even current and former athletes from the Texans and Rockets.

Ample pedestrian traffic and bus lines nearby bring the foot traffic he wanted, and he now has three barbers working in the shop with him, including two he brought in fresh out of barber school about four years ago.

Freeman said he didn’t grow up in the Hobby area but was familiar with it when he was younger.

“I see that with the landscaping and knocking down some of the apartments, it looks a lot better,” he said. “It could still use a little bit more facelift.”

He has seen little violence in the area but is concerned about thefts and break-ins. An increased police presence has helped, he said, and he and other area business owners are working to improve things. That was one of the concerns that brought him into contact with the Hobby Area District.

“With the (District) meeting, I see how the community comes together with the businesses. It’s like, OK, I want to be part of that, as far as what we can do to improve the community and how can we help—things to keep us going and keep the people around the area safe and us as safe as well,” he said.

Freeman is looking to expand his interests by opening a barber school with a partner specializing in cosmetology. Their school, ARC Institute of Cosmetology & Barbering, is in Pasadena.

— by Mark Singer