When Whitney Adams and Barbara Barnett were planning to open their first salon together at Crosstown Concourse in fall 2019, they needed a name. Adams began researching the zodiac for inspiration.
Adams is an Aries, and Barnett is a Capricorn, so they combined traits of both signs to form the name Hero & Sage. Aries (the “hero”) are described as courageous, adventurous, enthusiastic, and passionate, while Capricorns (“the sage”) are said to be stable, modest, patient, and intellectual.
While the two owners have a total of 31 years of salon experience between them, Hero & Sage was always meant to be more than just Adams and Barnett. From the start, they began looking to fill two additional stylist chairs. They found the perfect matches in Tosha Williams-Finch and Jarrad Baker, who just happen to be another Capricorn and Aries combo.
“Now we are truly Hero & Sage by the power of two,” says Barnett.
Hero & Sage opened in October 2019 in Concourse’s West Retail Corridor (next to Cheryl Pesce The Lifestyle Store and Gloss nail bar). Barnett always knew she wanted to co-own a salon.
“I knew the time had to be right, and the person had to be right. I knew I wanted to open with somebody else,” says Barnett, who has been styling hair for 18 years.
She and Adams had worked together at another Memphis salon for seven years, and they shared a similar work ethic.
“She wasn’t lazy, and at the end of the day, if she needed to stay late, she would stay. We have the same work ethic. She wouldn’t let our own place fail, just like I wouldn’t let it fail,” Barnett says.
Adams, who has worked at nine salons around Memphis, says she hadn’t really thought much about opening her own place until the two started dreaming about it over dinner and drinks. Barnett was Concourse co-leader Todd Richardson’s stylist, and he suggested the two open their salon at Crosstown Concourse. The pair hadn’t considered Concourse as a possible location because they assumed it would be out of budget.
“Todd made it seem possible,” Adams says.
“Todd told us to come look at the space. When we found out more about the building, we just loved it. After that, we didn’t search anywhere else,” Barnett says.
Meanwhile, Williams-Finch was looking for a new second job. The Shelby County Schools secretary and records clerk has a passion for styling natural hair, and on a visit to Concourse, she’d noticed the not-yet-open Hero & Sage space as it was under construction.
“I peeked in and saw the two dryers. The lights were off,” Williams-Finch said. “I knew I wanted to find something new, so I gave it some time. I came back a month later and saw it was open. So I worked up the nerve to come in and ask Whitney if they had openings available.”
Turns out, they did, and a natural hair stylist was just who they were looking for. Williams-Finch started working at the salon in November 2019.
“I knew this was where I wanted to be. The fact that they wanted a natural hair stylist sets a tone for Crosstown. It’s not just for one race. It’s for everybody,” Williams-Finch says.
Williams-Finch still works at Shelby County Schools by day, and she spends her afternoons and weekends at Hero & Sage.
“I have a degree in criminal justice, but I’ve been doing hair since 2015. It’s something I am good at and really wanted to do. I knew that there was a need to have more stylists who could do African-American hair,” Williams-Finch says.
Jarrad Baker, who offers a full range of styling services for men and women, was the final addition to Hero & Sage. He was hired in June, shortly after Hero & Sage reopened after the pandemic shutdown. Baker had previously worked with Adams and Barnett for five years at another salon.
The Louisiana native moved to Memphis nine years ago on a guest artist contract with Playhouse on the Square.
“I got into hair in college because I was doing performance, and I was a hair and makeup designer,” Bakers says. “I’ve traveled doing musicals, and hair was the only other thing I had a passion for. I got lucky coming to Memphis, where I could still do both of my career choices.”
Baker is still involved in local theater and does two shows a year at Playhouse. When it comes to hair, he specializes in everything from fades and fantasy colors to Brazilian blowouts, but his favorite cuts are the ones he does for his youngest clients.
“I love kids. They’re your most honest judge,” Baker says. “I usually let them tell me what they want. I let them make their own choices with their hair.”
Hero & Sage briefly closed under Mayor Jim Strickland’s Stay at Home order in March, but were able to re-open with new safety protocols. Services are available by appointment only, and clients must arrive at their appointments alone to help with social distancing. Stylists and clients must wear masks, which are required Concourse-wide.
But Barbara says business is booming again. On Jarrad’s first day, he says he worked nearly 12 hours with non-stop clients.
Says Barnett: “I knew people were ready, but we didn’t expect people to come back out this quickly.”
Overall, Barnett says they’ve been blown away by the reception at Crosstown Concourse.
“We knew how many people lived here and worked here, but we didn’t know if people would actually want to get their hair done here. Once we arrived, it was overwhelming in a good way. People who worked in the building were excited that they could get their haircut on the way home from work without having to stop anywhere else,” Barnett says. “And it’s not just building traffic. It’s neighborhood traffic too. I’ve heard a lot of people say they want to support this neighborhood and want to do as much as they can in this neighborhood. It’s been awesome.”