For two years, Charlotte Center City Partners and Honeywell have given more than $4.6 million in grants to local small businesses to help alleviate the financial strain brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The program, called the Center City Small Business Innovation Fund, launched in 2020 to help restaurants, breweries, bakeries, coffee shops, salons, retailers, food trucks and others pivot and compete in a changing marketplace as the pandemic continues.
Local businesses received up to $40,000 in funding for uses from supplies to building upgrades.
In the fourth round of funding, announced last august, 27 businesses joined a cohort of 143 others that had already received grants, finishing the remaining allocated budget for the program.
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Several West End businesses — including The Dooby Shop School of Cosmetology on Beatties Ford Road and Charlie’s Angels Beauty Bar on W. Trade Street — were among those recipients.
Each received $40,000 for renovations and technological needs.
“We renovated the entire salon, top to bottom,” Angel Petty, owner of Charlie’s Angels Beauty Bar, said.
That included new paint, lighting, salon chairs, salon stations, design and decor, a customer concierge area and anti-virus machines. Petty said the renovations were completed over four days last October.
Petty also used the grant to updated her website and marketing materials, including physical and digital business cards. With the remaining dollars, she is getting a car wrapped for mobile advertising.
Petty said the grant couldn’t have come at a better time.
“When we came back from Covid…it really hurt us, and I was behind on my rent two months,” she recalled. “Before that grant came through, I felt like I was in business single-handedly and nobody cared.”
A veteran salon owner, Petty opened her beauty bar five years ago after downsizing from a bigger space in east Charlotte. Her husband, Charlie Petty, who co-owns No Grease Mosaic Barbershop at 1635 W. Trade St., suggested the space he and partners own right next door.
At first, it was a great move, but then came the construction of the CityLynx Gold Line Streetcar right outside her door that went on for three years, and then the Covid-19 pandemic.
But relief came when J’Tanya Adams, who leads the Historic West End Partners, an economic development group for the corridor, told Petty about the grant. Petty said she felt seen and supported as a double minority business owner with limited capital and cash flow.
“It was like almost one of the best things that ever happened to me in my business career, and I felt like at that point somebody did care about us,” Petty said.
Like Petty, Adams urged Terese Hutchison, owner of The Dooby Shop School of Cosmetology, to apply for the Small Business Innovation Fund.
Discouraged due to applying for several business grants over the years and not getting any, Hutchison was apprehensive.
“J’Tanya said just try it, and I was like okay (sighs), and she said again ‘just try it,’” Hutchison said.
When Hutchison learned the cosmetology school received the grant, she said she “jumped for joy.”
The school has a total renovation with all new salon work stations, salon equipment, lighting, painting, renovated bathrooms and an added instructor’s office.
Hutchison said the grant for renovations couldn’t have come at a better time, as the cosmetology school is in the accreditation process for federal financial aid funding with NACCAS (National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences).
The school currently operates on private pay. However, Hutchison estimates that by mid-2022, students who enroll in her school will use federal financial aid to cover their tuition like her beauty school competitors, the Paul Mitchell School and Empire Beauty School.
Since converting into a cosmetology school from a salon in 2014, Hutchison strategically held off on the NACCAS process so people with challenged backgrounds could attend, something prohibited with federal funding.
“Being on Beatties Ford Road, I didn’t know that I would become a second chance school, but I did,” she said. “I was able to have people 16 and up, no GED, no high school diploma, convicted felons for all this time. I wanted to have that time to help as many people as possible.”
Pivoting from The Dooby Shop Hair Salon to a Cosmetology School wasn’t an easy feat for Hutchison, who originally opened the salon at Beatties Ford Road and Lasalle Street in 2004.
As the only Black-owned cosmetology school in Charlotte, some naysayers said she wouldn’t be able to pull it off.
“It was tough opening,” she said. “I had a lot of people, even state board people tell me, you’re never going to make it, people can’t afford to go to school. You’ll just get fined and get shut down, and that was my motivation.”
Opening a cosmetology school had always been the goal for Hutchison in her decades-long career. Besides, she knew she could do it.
At 21, she opened her first salon, Heads Up at 36th Street and the Plaza, which she operated for 12 years, before getting the idea of The Dooby Shop. It was a clever move in the early 2000s.
Dooby’s were once very popular in the Black hair community. (After a wash and set, you wrap your hair in a circular motion and secure it with bobby pins and a scarf at night. The next day you comb it down, and your hair retains the bounciness, shape, and shine for a week at minimum.)
Hutchison’s concept was fast and affordable. She opened her first Dooby Shop at West Blvd and Remount Road, and for months lines were wrapped around the building, she said.
Business was so good that the Dooby Shop became a franchise with locations on The Plaza, Sugar Creek, Sunset Road, and even in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
But as the years went on through the late 2000s and early 2010’s Black hair trends were changing rapidly. Natural hair was back in, and the demand for Dooby’s faded quickly.
Those who usually went to the hair salon every two weeks to wash and set their relaxed hair were now on YouTube watching tutorials on maintaining their natural coils and curls at home.
Seeing the change, Hutchison adjusted by closing all her locations to focus on the cosmetology school.
“I did not see it coming,” admits Hutchison, adding, “Natural hair (enrollees) is 80% of our students right now. A lot of our students don’t want full cosmetology because they only want to do the hair weaving and the braiding.”
“I tell my students you have to think about this if you’re not treating the hair and the scalp. Then, eventually, there’s no hair to braid and no hair to put a wig on.”
With social media and technological advances, potential clients have an array of hairstylists at their fingertips.
Whatever service they’re looking for, they can search a hashtag on Instagram, for example, #cutsandcolorclt, and book online with whose work they like best, but that’s if they can get an appointment.
The Black hair business on Instagram is serious. To liken it to real estate, it’s a seller’s market almost 100 percent of the time. If your work is good, you have thousands of eyeballs on you wanting a chance to sit in your chair. For the buyer, finding someone you like is easy. But getting on their books can feel like hitting the lottery.
It’s not uncommon these days at all for hairstylists and braiders alike to be booked months in advance. And many of these stylists now work singularly in salon suites, bypassing the rules, co-workers, booth rent, and large groups of people that’s standard in most full-service salons.
For young hairstylists, this is the life they know and are accustomed to, but for veterans who came up the ranks in hair salons, competing in hair shows and building a clientele through sweat and hot combs, the new generation doesn’t have a clue.
“It’s too easy now, microwave,” Hutchison said. “It’s not good for the industry, because eventually what’s going to happen to Black salons?”
“They have YouTube to learn. “We had to fly or drive to Atlanta and take a class to learn these services,” she said. Then, we had to pass out fliers for business. I was passing out 5,000 fliers every month to get to 30 clients every day.”
But the more things change, the more they stay the same, and that’s true for the hair industry as well.
So no matter what trends come and go, styling hair in the state of North Carolina or anywhere in the United States, for that matter, requires a hair license from the state board.
With those being the facts, Hutchison said the changing trends hadn’t impacted her Cosmetology School, where over 170 students have graduated.
In February, she’s preparing to welcome another class of students.
On Friday, Jan. 14, those students will tour their future renovated workspace, where they will study for the next three months to a year during the school’s re-grand opening.
At the event, Hutchison said she would give a scholarship to one of the students, adding that giving back is something she has always done since bringing her business to the West End nearly two decades ago.
“I firmly believe that’s why I’m still open today,” she said.
“The grant was a huge help, and it just feels good to get something back for everything that I’ve been pouring into this neighborhood for the last 17 years.”