A former Black-owned business in the heart of Madisonville
At the northwest corner of Madison Road and Whetsel Avenue is a two-story brick-and-limestone commercial building. It was built in the 1920’s as a bank, and it is now a microbrewery. But for many years, it was Benna’s Barbershop – one of the most visible Black-owned businesses in Madisonville.
David G. Benna (pronounced BEN-nay) was born in Kentucky in 1894. He came to Madisonville in 1909, at around age 15, to stay with an aunt, Laura Phelps, and to learn the barbering trade. He lived in Madisonville, and he worked for Logan Brothers barbershop on Madison Road in Oakley.
Benna then purchased Eli Gifford’s old barbershop in Madisonville and had the building moved to a new site nearby. By 1927, David Benna had his own shop (first in partnership with Julius Mann), advertising a “Four chair shop” with “high-grade barber service.” He had both Black and white customers. In 1936 he was interviewed by the Cincinnati Enquirer and “said most of his business came from Indian Hill chauffeurs.” But in 1941 he placed a help-wanted ad for an African American barber “to work on white trade” (that is, white customers).
Benna worked out of several locations, but eventually moved into the former bank building, where he was one of the most prominent Black business owners in Madisonville. He was a member of the Madisonville Coordinating Council, the Wesley Smith Masonic Lodge #107, and Trinity Missionary Baptist Church.
David G. Benna and his wife Blonzetta (née Smith) were married for 53 years and had six children. The family lived at 6517 East Ledge Street, a home that still exists, about a ten-minute walk from the barber shop.
David Benna worked as a barber until just a few months prior to his death in July 1983, after more than 60 years in the business. His memorial service was held at nearby Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, and he was buried in Gate of Heaven Cemetery. His obituary, in the Cincinnati Enquirer, claims that David Benna was the “Oldest active barber in the state of Ohio.”
After David Benna’s death, the building served as a beauty salon for Aaron "Ron" Strayhorn, and then it was unoccupied for some years. It was eventually purchased by the Madisonville Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation (MCURC), an organization founded in 1975 as the as the Eastwood Development Corporation.
In 2008, the City of Cincinnati adopted the Growth & Opportunity Plan (GO Cincinnati), naming the Madison Road corridor one of three primary areas of focus for future economic development efforts.
MCURC led the community through a 15-month grassroots planning process resulting in the 2012 Quality of Life Plan, which proposed renovation of the building as part of their ongoing neighborhood revitalization efforts.
With the help of the City of Cincinnati, the Community Development Finance Fund and several foundations, renovation of this building was completed in 2016. The second floor contains two fully renovated apartments.
In 2019, Bad Tom Smith Brewing opened in the former barbershop space, becoming a new business district anchor.