C&C Cutz barber, Craig Elston, in Buffalo turned his shop into a shelter for 50 people during the killer blizzard KossyDerrickBlog KossyDerrickEnt

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Wednesday, December 28, 2022

C&C Cutz barber, Craig Elston, in Buffalo turned his shop into a shelter for 50 people during the killer blizzard

A barber in Buffalo turned his shop into a shelter for 50 people during the killer blizzard. They slept in the chairs and the floor with barber capes as blankets.

Elston's story starts when a man knocked on the front door of his barber shop looking for shelter. Since Elston was already stranded there with some clients, he "felt the need to just open my door up to him," Elston said, speaking with Insider.

He assumed that at that point, the blizzard couldn't have gotten much worse and that they'd all be able to go home soon.

But then, he told Insider he started to see news of people dying in the blizzard, so he decided to go on TikTok and Facebook Live to invite anyone in the community who needed shelter to come and stay at his barber shop. The TikTok video has since amassed nearly one million views.

"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."

In total, Elston told Insider he estimates that 50 people came in and out of his shop from Friday until Monday. He said that around 30 people stayed all weekend, but others came in to warm up, charge their phones, and use WiFi to contact family members.

Elston stayed with the group stranded in his shop over the weekend, telling Insider he hasn't been home since Friday. He even had to miss Christmas with his nine-year-old daughter.

He said that he slept in his barber's chair while those staying there slept in the other chairs, on the floor, and in the back of the shop. They used barber capes as blankets.

The majority of people who stayed at the barber shop had homes nearby but had lost power and needed a place that was warm or had gotten stuck outside when the snow started.

Elston fronted the money for those who needed transportation to get home. He paid for food, drinks, and snacks from the corner store — one mile away — which people traveled to in packs of four for sustenance. And he kept the electricity running throughout Christmas weekend.

"This was a tragedy here," Elston told Insider. "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."

Elston said he felt an "obligation to my community" to allow people to stay at the shop, noting that other businesses were charging stranded citizens to shelter there.

"When I said it was free of charge, people said I saved their life," Elston said.

"People's been reaching out to me calling me a hero," Elston told Insider. "And the most I tell them is that I'm no hero. I'm just a person that got a heart."

Elston continued: "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."

On Friday, Elston looked out his window at C & C Cutz to a complete whiteout. He couldn't see more than two feet ahead. And just as he thought about what he'd do, alone at the shop, a client walked in — and asked for a haircut.

"I thought he was absolutely crazy," Elston told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. That man ended up being trapped with the owner, who eventually cut his hair.

A few more people trickled into the shop and the barber decided to keep his business running to give his neighbours shelter.

He cranked up the heat and fed them hot pockets, noodles and Vienna sausages from nearby stores where stranded shop owners had also stayed open. The people sheltering in the barbershop were able to charge their phones and call their families.

As word got out about his shop, Elston heard some harrowing stories about others who were stuck in the storm.

"I seen a person on Facebook lay face first in the snow. And it broke my heart," he said.

"At that point, it was game on. I'm going to help whoever I can help. I'm not going to let nobody that's in this area go without shelter."

The blizzard hit Buffalo and the surrounding Erie County region hard, trapping people in their cars, causing power outages and preventing emergency crews from responding in time. 

On Tuesday, Mayor Byron Brown's office announced a total of 27 storm-related deaths in the city, along with at least seven suburban fatalities. That's more than the historic blizzard of 1977, when 29 people died in the region that's known for its brutal winter weather.

In Buffalo, the dead have been found in cars, homes and snowbanks. A barber in Buffalo turned his shop into a shelter for 50 people during the killer blizzard. They slept in the chairs and the floor with barber capes as blankets.

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