A Buffalo barber turned his business into temporary housing for those left unsheltered during the recent superstorm that claimed the lives of over 50 people nationally.
On Friday, Dec. 23, after much of his city was buried under mountains of snow, Craig Elston opened his barbershop, C&C Cutz, up to the most vulnerable people in his community.
Unlike many of the buildings around the city, his shop’s electricity, heat and WiFi were never disrupted, affording him a luxury many did not have.
According to The Insider, the storm was so severe Elston, and some of his customers were already trapped in the shop. Then at one point, he heard a knock on his door. He said he “felt the need to just open my door up to him,” which led to an influx of over 50 people who were kept safe, warm and possibly alive amid freezing temperatures from that Friday, Dec. 23, to Monday, Dec. 26.
After the blizzard hit, over three dozen died due to conditions related to the storm. Nearly 52 inches of snow fell, causing many cars to be stuck, buildings to be shut down and power lines to break, according to CNN. On top of the blizzard, emergency workers were challenged and could not get to people — who tragically lost their lives.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz talked about the county’s deficiency in response. He also celebrated those who risked their lives, saying without their help, “more people would have died.”
One person who could not make it out was Anndel Taylor, a 22-year-old nursing student who moved to upstate New York to care for her ailing father. While driving home from work at a Buffalo hospital on Dec. 23, she got trapped in her car and died after sharing videos with her sisters about being unable to save herself.
Abdul Sharifu, a 26-year-old who survived the war in Congo and lived over a decade as an orphan in an overcrowded refugee camp, moved to Buffalo to start a new life. He and his new wife were expecting their first child when the blizzard hit, and the young African also lost his life after he got stuck in the storm, The Washington Post reported.
Another person who lost her life was Monique Alexander, a mom who died after a trip to a local store. The 52-year-old tried to get to the store on Christmas Eve but succumbed to the troubling weather.
Elston shared that once he started seeing news of people losing their lives in the storm, he took to TikTok and Facebook Live to invite those in need of a place to stay a spot in C&C Cutz.
He said on TikTok, “Yo, please, man. Anybody out there that’s stuck in the Filmore and Broadway area, do not stay in your … The barbershop here on 707 Filmore welcomes you.”
“Please,” he continued. “People are out there dying. This sh– is real. My door is open. I’m not charging nobody nothing. “
He added, “Get some heat. Get some electricity. Charge your phone to get in contact with your family,” he said in the video that has been viewed almost one million times.
Social media played a huge role in Elston’s choice. He said he saw images of people on the internet dying, and it pulled at his heart.
“I see people dead on Facebook. My first instinct is I got a building with heat and lights, like a lot of people don’t. Why not open my building up to the public?” Elston said. “I genuinely just did it just so people would have somewhere to go.”
Out of the 50 people he hosted over the weekend, about 30 stayed all weekend. The other 20 people came in and out of the shop to warm up, charge their phones and use WiFi to contact family members.
Elston stayed in the barbershop throughout the holiday, even missing spending Christmas with his 9-year-old daughter, only returning to his home on Tuesday, Dec. 27. Each day, the business owner kept the electricity on, making sure his place was inhabitable.
During those days, he slept in his barber’s chair. Others stayed at the establishment and slept on the floor, in other chairs and at the back of the shop. Elston says they used barber capes as blankets.
Many of the people Elston hosted were his neighbors, whose homes had lost power and needed to be warmed during the below-zero temperatures.
Elston said other businesses with power charged people to come in. But he said he could not.
“When I said it was free of charge, people said I saved their life,” Elston said.
In addition to providing a place for them to stay, he also gave people money for transportation, food, drinks and snacks.
When asked why he went above and beyond, the stakeholder said he felt an “obligation to my community.”
“This was a tragedy here,” Elston said. “A lot of people that are not from Buffalo don’t understand how terrible the weather is. This is the worst I’ve ever seen.”
He continued, “People’s been reaching out to me calling me a hero, and the most I tell them is that I’m no hero. I’m just a person that got a heart.”
He added, “I felt like at that time it was what I was supposed to do. I’m sitting in a warm place, and I got lights, and people are without lights. People are without gas. People are without food. People are without drinks. And I have all those things, and I have access to all those things. I’m not gonna be selfish.”