People from all over New England travel to a spacious brick building in Newton’s village of Nonantum, where dozens of beauty businesses — many owned by people of color — opened in the summer of 2020, filling a gap in the salon scene and forming a community with loyal clients.
In July of last year, esthetician Paula Mims founded Spa Paula. B, which was featured recently in Natural Awakenings magazine for organic skin products and services. She said people come from all over “looking for a Black esthetician.”
Mims said she was “beat down” working for other people and was eager to launch her own business at 150 California St. My Salon Suite is part of a national enterprise that leases small, private studios to beauty business owners.
“I’ve experienced some uncomfortable things ... in the workplace,” Mims said. “So I said ‘I might as well just try and do something for myself.’”
Debbie and Josh Fredberg, co-owners of the My Salon Suite location in Newton, said they wanted credible businesses with established client bases and prioritized bringing in racially diverse owners.
“This place looks like Newton,” Josh Fredberg said. “That was important to us.”
My Salon Suite, located in what was once a baby clothes factory and later an acupuncture school, now has 42 businesses offering everything from spray tans and waxing to eyebrow threading and loc services. They include Linny Belle Hair, Senju Salon, and Bbeauty Me, among others.
The Fredbergs said they chose the California Street building because they wanted customers to have free parking and access to a central location with proximity to Boston. They have a waitlist of business owners looking to rent a suite space, they said, and they are planning to open another location in Watertown.
The Fredbergs spoke about the difficulties establishing relationships with new business owners during the pandemic. The Zoom introductions and lack of in-person gatherings “dampered excitement,” they said, but the business owners were “resourceful and creative” and established a community that fosters collaboration.
“We support each other,” Mims said. “If someone needs some help or if they run out of something, I’m here to help them.”
For Hana Rahim, owner of Skyn&Co. Aesthetics, networking with other members in the plaza has helped everyone bring in more business.
“I say ‘Hey, make it a one stop shop, and you can come get your facial and then go get your hair done,’” Rahim said, “We all know of each other, we all do different things together to kind of build each other up, so that we can all basically win at the end of the day.”
Another owner at the plaza, Zana Marcelin — who opened ZANAFIED Beauty in the summer of 2020 — said it is important to uplift her communities.
“Those of us that are minorities especially do go out of our way to acknowledge each other, simply because we’re not really acknowledged,” she said.
Marcelin’s suite is filled with messages about faith and love, including the words, “Let your faith be bigger than your fears,” on the wall near a white board where clients can write messages of their choice.
“My personal preference is to just love on people’s skin and just teach them how to take care of their skin, " Marcelin said.
Angelik Walters, owner of Crystal Culture Beauty Bar, said she has been working to “make people feel beautiful” in her suite space since June 2020. Although her business is just over a year old, she said she has been able to utilize social media and “went from zero clients” to being “too booked.”
Walters talked about what it’s like to work in a space with other Black-owned businesses.
“It feels really good because you finally see other Black entrepreneurs among you,” she said. “Sometimes you think you’re the only one, but there’s a few near me, and it just feels good that we’re all in business together.”
Marcelin said her clients have come from as far as Vermont to receive services from a Black aesthetician.
“The majority of them wanted an aesthetician or a manicurist who is a person of color who would be able to better understand their skin or their nails — or they would be able to better identify with them,” Marcelin said.
Many Flores and Annie Schneider, owners of Texture Temple, a salon in the plaza specializing in textured hair, said they work to embrace identity as it is intertwined with hair.
Flores and Schneider said the salon, which opened in September, is already booked at 40 percent capacity. They said their salon promotes “embracing your hair where it’s at,” with pictures of different curl patterns, colors, and textures adorning the walls.
“Just to say ‘I love your curls,’ that has so much power and that brings out camaraderie,” Flores said.
One of their clients, Nickie Martinez, a senior at Lesley University, said she is currently on her own journey of embracing and loving her curls with help from Flores and Schneider. Martinez said she has been able to embrace her identity through her curly hair.
“It’s empowering to finally feel like this is me, this is my hair, this is growing out of my scalp, I’m not doing anything extra to it,” Martinez said.
Growing up, Martinez said, she was taught heat styled-straight hair was beautiful and didn’t begin her journey to embrace her natural hair until she was a teenager. The education and support she has received from Flores and Schneider, Martinez said, has been beneficial to her hair journey.
“It has its own sense of individuality within each curl,” she said. “I’m the only person with my hair. No one else has this, no one else has the curls that I have. It makes you feel like one of a kind,” Martinez said.
Colbi Edmonds and Katherine Hapgood can be reached at email@example.com.