This past weekend I had the opportunity to meet my baby nephew for the first time. His mother, my sister, had been doing well but working very, very hard to take care of this baby boy by herself while her husband works overseas, and to help her pamper herself after months of being on diaper duty, I wanted us to go get our nails done–on me. Living in New York, the options for a nail salon are pretty unlimited, but as for a GOOD nail salon, that’s another story. I have a huge fear of a clumsy or lazy nail tech somehow managing to cut me to the point that I get an infection, something like the ones you read about or see on those scary health and science channels. And after my sister spoke about getting a huge gash on her foot a few years back and watching a nail tech massage my hands with an uncovered cut a few months ago, I wanted to do some REAL research.
To my dismay, however, I found that on a Sunday night, most of the nail shops were too far out and/or closed by 6 or 7 p.m. Bummed out, we headed to the train from an Indian restaurant in Brooklyn, only to run up on a nail bar two stores down. And when I walked in, I was ecstatic to hear Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite playing over the sound system, cookies and sandwiches on a plate in the corner, folks relishing good conversation, and see black faces doing all the work. A black owned nail salon!? Scooooooore. No disrespect to anybody who works at a nail salon that is owned or has employees of a different background, but I sometimes feel not all that welcomed or appreciated when go to other shops. Either people are speaking in another language in my face, or they’re not really speaking to me at all.
The decor was fancy, the prices were pretty good (I got a mani-pedi for $28) and the people who worked there were very nice and took time (kind of a long time) to be meticulous about their work, especially when it came to the manicures. The woman who did my nails even asked me about myself and offered tips on how to preserve my nail job for more than a few days (apply a clear coat on top of your manicure every two days). The owner, a bubbly, tall black woman, introduced herself to us, and seemed very appreciative of our business–something you don’t see very often.
In the end, I walked out with my nephew and sister, are nails both in a spicy form of orange, and for one of the first times in a long time, I looked at a black-owned business with glee and thought, “I’ll be back.”
I try my hardest to spend my money at black owned businesses, including hair salons, restaurants, accessory purveyors and more, but sadly, the quality of the things sold, the work done or the person who provides the service is not up to par sometimes. I’ve waited more than two hours before to get my hair done. I’ve had a woman poorly cut my hair into a mushroom cut when she didn’t want to be honest about the fact that she couldn’t line me up worth a damn. I’ve had people low-key yell at me when I didn’t pick up my food order fast enough, and gone to businesses that said they would be open at one time, and left me locked out in 90 degree heat in the summer (and then had no air condition when I finally got in that joint). For every genuinely great place of business owned by a committed, hard working black woman or man, there are few I doubt can even take themselves seriously with employees who spend more time talking than working, and care more for their time than yours.
Going to this particular nail bar was great for me, and I do intend to go back. But just the whole experience in itself, with the fun black women doing waxes, giving massages, painting nails and doing everything with a smile and a “Hey girl, hey” look, reminded me of how great we can be when we take things REALLY seriously, listen to customer thoughts and complaints, try and grow from them, and try to provide people with the type of service we ourselves would want. It’s so easy to tell one another to “buy black,” but at the same time, those we’re buying from need to make us want to, and the happy-go-lucky lady who owned this shop definitely persuaded me. Besides, I just really want our entrepreneurs to succeed, because if we can’t support those who tailor their goods and services for our skin, our hair, our tastes and our needs, who else will?