Tough Times at Black Women's Salons

The recession and hair trends mean increased competition and less business for black-owned hair salons.

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By Elizabeth Wellington

PHILADELPHIA -- You would certainly expect black and white women to shop at the same stores, luxuriate in the same spas, even frequent the same makeup counters. And more than five decades after Rosa Parks held on to her bus seat, they do.

But there was one beauty barrier that was never breached: hair salons.

All things being equal, women's hair was not.

Because no one, according to the conventional wisdom, could style a black woman's hair except another African American, salons were the only institutions more segregated than church on Sunday mornings. It's a well-known scene: Black women gather at their beauty parlors for everything from straightening to socializing.

But this last bastion of separation may be going the way of the hot comb. Pushed by a recession-driven shakeout and shifting trends in hair care, the walls are starting to come down.

Walk into Saks Fifth Avenue's salon in Bala Cynwyd, Pa. -- historically home to a mostly white, upper-class clientele -- and you will see black and white clients getting their hair done by white and black stylists.

There's also an increasing number of black stylists at typically white Center City Philadelphia salons, including Bubbles and Adolf Biecker. And black-owned beauty salons are hiring a more diverse group of stylists.

Of the six stylists at the year-old Ends Hair Design and Day Spa in Northern Liberties, Pa., there are three African Americans, one Asian, one white stylist and one Latina.

Brandy Davila, who is an African American and an owner of the multicultural Salon Tenshi in North Philadelphia, opens her doors to all clients and stylists.

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