Latina Salons Weather Recession Beautifully

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Latina beauty salons throughout the U.S. are providing an employment lifeline to a group of female workers who have been badly hurt by the recession. One owner in Queens, N.Y., hopes to add English classes to her new cosmology school.

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NYC Business Solutions, a city-funded program, counseled Ledesma on accessing business credit from her bank, and despite the tight credit market, she took out a loan to start the school.

Once her school, which opened last month, is more settled, she also hopes to use city aid to start offering English classes to her workers through the city's English as a Second Language program.

"I dream of having English classes, so my workers don't have to spend a decade like me without knowing English," she said.

At the press conference, Bloomberg said the city would commit $3 million to provide 5,000 more free classes in English as a Second Language, adding to the 50,000 free classes now available to immigrant New Yorkers.

In June, the Mayor's Office of Immigration Affairs teamed up with New York City's Department of Small Business Services to announce other measures designed to help Latino-owned small businesses in the recession.

In addition to promising to launch a new NYC Business Solutions office in Washington Heights, a predominantly Latino neighborhood in upper Manhattan, the city also staged a financing fair for Latino businesses in August 2009, where over a 100 Latino business owners were matched with lenders. The city also conducted a seminar to train Latino entrepreneurs about publicly-available services.

Texas Salon Fulfils Dream

Louise Benavidez, a 57-year-old resident of Galveston, Texas, is another proud owner of a beauty salon, something she dreamed about as a child.

The oldest of six, she used to cut the hair of four of her sisters. Her mother died when she was 10.

"Before she died, she always used to take me to the beauty salon," Benavidez said. "Beauty salons definitely empower Latinas by giving them the opportunity to be owners."

She opened Lulu's, a salon that now employs 14 women, over 30 years ago.

Located in a town badly hit by Hurricane Ike last year, Lulu's has seen some lulls.

Benavidez uses these quiet moments to educate her employees, mostly Latino, with skill-building classes on topics that range from customer service to industry standards for hair perms, cutting and coloring.

Being part of the Professional Beauty Association, a nonprofit trade association based in Scottsdale, Ariz., has also helped Benavidez and her salon connect with other salon owners for mentoring, networking and resource guides on compensation and cosmetic regulations, among others.

"This is an industry that has really made it through the recession," said Benavidez. "Because you make people feel and look good."

Rebecca Harshbarger is a journalist based in New York, with experience that ranges from covering community board meetings in Queens to interviewing women's rights activists in East Africa. You can visit her blog, From Kampala to New York, at www.ugandabeat.wordpress.com.

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