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Down to the Last Curl

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Bartee's Beauty Salon, located at 2665 Eleventh Street, in Riverside, has operated from that same location since Willie Bartee became owner in October 1946, and is believed to be the oldest Black-owned business in the Inland Empire that is still in existence.

On Wednesday, April 11, 2007, Willie Bartee, owner and operator of Bartee's Beauty Salon, celebrated his 89th birthday and has decided it is time to retire. On Monday, April 30, 2007 Bartee's Beauty Salon will close its doors after 60 years.

Growing up in Farmville, Virginia, Bartee had no inkling that cosmetology would be his lifelong vocation. His older sister, Bernetta West introduced him to the trade. She owned both a beauty school and a beauty shop in New York City. She convinced Bartee to enroll in Bernetta's Beauty Academy in October 1936. The Academy was founded in April 1936. Bartee remembers being only 18. There were so many nice looking girls and he was the only guy. He saw the school as a way to get to know the young women.

Willie F. Bartee and Susan Aubert-Griggs
Despite his initial misgivings about the profession, he stuck with the program and in July 1937, Bartee graduated the only male in the class from that Academy and went to work in the shop Bernetta owned. He eventually became manager of that shop and in 1940, when Bernetta closed the Academy and left New York, Bartee took over the business. He ran that shop until February 1942, at which time he moved to Detroit, Michigan.

In September 1943, Bartee was drafted into the Army, where he served in an outfit that was attached to March Air Force Base, in Riverside where he was stationed. After the war ended, but while still in the military, Bartee worked at a small Riverside beauty shop called the Blue Horizon owned by Anne Perry. At that time he was still not interested in working as a hairdresser again, but Anne offered him a job and he ended up working nights there.

In March 1946 Bartee enrolled in the brand new cosmetology program at Riverside City College. He was both the first Black student and the first male student in the cosmetology department. On June 15, 1946 Bartee received his California State Cosmetology license.

Bartee then went to work at the Laura Jackson Beauty Salon in Riverside. This salon had opened in the early 1930's and was owned and operated by Laura Jackson. Bartee worked with Laura in the two person shop located at 2665 Eleventh Street. In October 1946 Bartee purchased the business.  It then became Bartee's Beauty Salon. He has owned and operated this business at that same location since.

Willie Bartee has been recognized and awarded by the Riverside Black Chamber of Commerce, NAACP and the Riverside African American Historical Society. He is a past recipient of the Pacesetters Award as an Unsung Hero and has served as Grand Marshall for the Riverside Black History Parade. Bartee has received proclamations from the Mayor of Riverside. The Greater Riverside Chamber of Commerce recognized his "People Who Make A Difference" Award from the Press Enterprise.

Bartee extends heartfelt thanks to his many friends and customers for their support throughout the years. It has been a pleasure and prvilege to provide professional haircare in the City of Riverside for over 60 years.

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