What is your profession/involvement in the community?
I own Jaha Hair on Bonifant, and have for 24 years. I also help manage Discover Bonifant. Discover Bonifant was created by myself and another business owner in the community. Silver Spring was being rejuvenated and we felt like local businesses that had been in the community for years were being left out. We wanted to bring awareness that Downtown Silver Spring is not the only part of Silver Spring where people can shop. There are many other businesses. I would say I’m a business owner, entrepreneur, and community activist.
How has your life changed since the community has been impacted by Coronavirus?
I definitely can’t make a living for my family, so I have to be creative and try to figure out something else. Just like so many other people I am filling out the grants and the loans and trying to navigate the system to try to get as much help as I can. There has been a lot of negative, but there is also a lot of positive. A lot of things I was thinking about doing, but never did because I was in the everyday hum drum of getting up and going to work, I’m now able to do. I’m thinking creatively about what I want to with the rest of my life.
I started in this industry at 18 in New York. I had one foot in and one foot out already, but I was still holding on to the salon. I have a huge online presence at natural hair industry. We have an annual convention for natural hair stylists. It’s a different niche in the hair industry for those stylists who are not licensed. We created an online sanitation and hygiene class for natural stylists. Between both of us we have 70 years of experience. We make ourselves available and offer those classes for free. We taught our fifth course last night and we have another one Wednesday.
Are you working more or less?
Mentally, more. Physically, less. That’s where I need to be in my career anyway. I need to stop working as much physically in the salon. I’m on my computer more and creating more generating ideas. It’s not really making me money now, but hopefully the way I set myself up it will start showing some kind of profit. I’m an entrepreneur at heart, so it didn’t take me long to brush off the anxiety and start thinking of ways to make money.
What are you most afraid of?
I don’t think I’m afraid of anything. I’m an entrepreneur. We’ve always gone through rough times alone. This is just another challenge.
A lot of people don’t realize that the hair industry took big hit during recession of 2008. A lot of people stopped getting their hair done. The business dropped a whole lot. That, combined with Jaha being on the Purple Line corridor, caused us to start losing a lot of business. As a result, I was in the process of revamping my business when this hit. I thought, “okay, try something else.” I don’t’ think it serves a purpose to be scared because when you’re scared you’re not thinking right. You have to push that fear aside and just do what you have to do.
What are you most hopeful for?
I have a life. I wake up every morning and say thank you god that I’m here. I have clarity of mind that I can think of other options. I haven’t been directly impacted by the virus. I’ve known friends of friends, but no one in my family and I’m thankful for that. I’m able to think about some options I have moving forward.
What has been the most challenging part of this experience for you?
The most challenging part of all of this is owning a small business, and specifically being a small business owner in the beauty industry. There’s no precedent for what happens if someone gets sick after they come into the salon. In the early days of the pandemic, I called my insurance company and they couldn’t do anything for me because this kind of thing isn’t covered – its new.
I think the other challenge is that as a small business, we tend to be forgotten a lot. In Downtown Silver Spring there’s an emphasis on the restaurants. A lot of other businesses just go by the wayside. We don’t get recognized. What you have to understand is this businesses is our business, but it’s also our job and our livelihoods. When small business owners lose, we literally lose everything.
Is there anything – even a tiny thing – you enjoy or like about sheltering in place?
Being home with both of my parents, who live with me. Especially at this age in their lives -- they’re both in their 80s. Waking up in my bed on a Saturday morning has helped me realize that I don’t want to work on weekends anymore. I’m going to adjust my schedule so that I can stay home Saturday and Sunday and really be with my family. I’m thankful for that to register in my head and enjoy being home on a Saturday.
I’m also thankful for the fact that I’ve been forced to look at other options and realize that getting up every day just to work and grind is not what life is all about.
What do you think society as a whole will learn from this experience?
I’m hoping that they learn to value what’s important. That’s family and health. That’s not getting up and making a whole bunch of money.
How are you coping with stress/taking care of yourself?
I just try to think positive all the time. I keep in touch with my friends on the phone. I have a granddaughter and we Facetime all the time.
When future generations ask, what will you tell them about this time in your life?
I’m going to tell them that it was a difficult time for a lot of people. We lost a lot of people and those losses didn’t need to happen.
But I’m also going to tell them that a lot of good came out of this time. A new spotlight was shined on community heroes and sheroes. I’m talking about teachers and nurses, who I think we all have a new appreciation for.
What would you like your friends and neighbors in Silver Spring/Montgomery County to know?
I want them to stay safe. And I want them to remember the mom and pop businesses, especially the ones that have been there for such a long time holding Silver Spring down. When people support us, they support our families directly, and the local community – most of us live here.