Carrying the Torch Down a New Path

Having spent many years in and around the Bayou St. John neighborhood, I always noticed a particular building on Dumaine St.  It was probably once a corner store, or a hardware store, or maybe an artists studio, or a bakery.  There was a door built into the corner of the building and one of those overhangs that you can picture folks from the neighborhood hanging-out under on a sweaty New Orleans afternoon, either in this century or the last, or maybe the one before that.  Dumaine St. was once a bustling commercial corridor complete with a streetcar line and businesses on every corner.  But the thing about this building that always caught my eye, and my imagination, were the iron bars on the door and one window that were in the shape of an eye.  A bright, wide, well defined, all knowing eye as if to let a potential burglar know that not only will you be kept out of this place, you will be seen as well. This city has an abundance of buildings with a personality, a sort of individualism and a story.  This building definitely had a story, I just hadn’t been let in on the secret…


In August of 2016 I began working with a local non-profit called Fund 17, whose mission of providing business development assistance, resources, and micro loans to under-served entrepreneurs in order to fight a growing income disparity throughout the 17 wards of New Orleans, appealed to my background very much.  Being an entrepreneur myself,  a professional musician in this great city for over 15 years, an M.B.A. student, and in possession of an innate sense of responsibility to use my blessings and my voice to serve New Orleans any way I can, the mission of Fund 17 spoke to me.  If I could pass on some of my experiences and education that I’ve been lucky enough to accumulate, if I could give back to the city that has already given me so much, It would be my honor to do so and I jumped at the opportunity. I was brought on as a business development adviser and was assigned to my first entrepreneur.

I was given a name and address and embarked on my first meeting with a new entrepreneur.  I was told that this young lady was a hairstylist and was hoping to start her own salon.  As I looked at the addresses on the houses and got closer to the number I was given, I realized that my destination was the building with the eyes!  I might finally find out what was inside.  I knocked on the corner door and was invited inside.  As the door swung wider and I stepped in, I was transported back in time-to the 1960s or 1970s.  This place was a ladies salon!  It was perfectly outfitted and still in possession of the vintage styling chairs, shampoo bowls, and those bubble hair dryers that you sit underneath.  AE, a young hairstylist and the niece of the previous proprietor, had essentially inherited this space and intended to bring it back to its former glory.  She would be carrying on a family tradition of hairdressers providing a neighborhood meeting space for ladies to come get their hair done.  The building was attached to a residence where her aunt still lived.  This place was cool!  It spoke to a time when residents lived, worked, and shopped all in the same neighborhood, when a neighborhood was a mini city, a true community. The family had been running the salon for decades as it had historically, but lacking the proper documentation, and AE intended to restart operations with a modern twist.  Catering to people with natural, curly hair, who wanted to learn to embrace their natural hair instead of dousing it with chemicals and unnatural products.  The mission was as much about empowerment as it was actual hair-styling, much like the mission of Fund 17 was more about the people than the actual businesses that would be created and supported.


My work with AE has included going through the proper channels and steps to rezone the property to its formal commercial use, and will include business development, accounting, and marketing once the permits are issued and the business is fully licensed.  One more building will be used as it was intended and will contribute to the city as a tax-paying commercial establishment.  One more young entrepreneur will have the opportunity to provide for her family, and continue the tradition – Carrying the torch down a new path to the future…