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Black-Owned Beauty Salons Hurt by Riots : Small business: The shops form about 10% of L.A.'s African- American companies. They also serve as important social hubs.

July 02, 1992|ANDREA MAIER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

On Friday and Saturday nights, Lorenzo's Beauty Salon stayed open till midnight, its clients sitting in booths and waiting on the peach-colored silk sofa, drinking wine and talking, always talking.

They talked about the grand and the mundane: their spouses and the latest styles, their children and their churches, their ambitions and their annoyances.

When the Los Angeles salon burned to the ground during the second night of rioting, no one thought its absence would mean day-to-day hardship. But for the 75 regular customers who spent anywhere from an hour to an afternoon at Lorenzo's, the loss of the salon was a very real one.

Theirs was one of the estimated 2,800 African-American barbershops, hair salons, wig shops and nail salons across the city and one of dozens destroyed by fire or stripped by looting.

Business and community leaders estimate that the core of small beauty businesses makes up about 10% of the city's black-owned businesses. It also comprises one of the community's most important social hubs.

"A lot of people don't realize what the hairdresser is in the black community," said Muhammad Nassardeen, president of Recycling Black Dollars. "The hairdresser is where you receive your therapy, where you get away from your kids, where you can talk about your problems."

At Lorenzo's, five operators tracked the community's most intimate details. "They knew who was in jail, who was not in jail, who was running for political office, what was going on in the schools," owner Charles Lorenzo Henderson said.

Henderson, 23, said he would rebuild the salon he took over just four months ago, though not in the same neighborhood at the corner of Manchester and Western. Instead, he envisages his new salon on Crenshaw Boulevard.

The concentration of salons in certain areas--and particularly on Crenshaw, where dozens sit shoulder-to-shoulder along the riot-pocked street--has caused some concern among neighborhood leaders. They hope that efforts to rebuild the area will sprout a variety of businesses.

"It's not that there's anything wrong with the beauty shops themselves," explained Craig Sasser, executive director of the Crenshaw Chamber of Commerce. "What we have is not enough supermarkets."

Sasser and others did acknowledge the importance of such small, autonomous businesses--and of beauty salons in particular--to the community.

"They employ people and they provide a service to the local economy," said Gene Hale, the chairman of the Greater Los Angeles African-American Chamber of Commerce. "And the money used in those salons is basically recycled within the community."

Noting that the salons often cater to local clients and buy many of their products from black-owned firms, Nassardeen concurred: "This is truly the area where you can recycle black dollars, where you can go from manufacturer to distributor to retailer."

Two major producers of beauty products used in local salons--Greensboro, N.C.-based Dudley Products and Atlanta-based Browner Bros.--are African-American manufacturers. While Browner Bros. is known primarily for its hair show, Joe L. Dudley, Sr., president of Dudley Products, has carved out his company's niche by selling directly to cosmetologists, rather than through mostly white-owned distributors.

Dudley recently traveled to Los Angeles to present local cosmetologists with the promise of $50,000, much of which has been pledged by 3,500 alumni of the Dudley Cosmetology University.

"We're trying to send a message, to say, 'Look, we're all bonding together,' " Dudley said. "The only solution to this problem is the network and the caring. We can make it if we have the proper infrastructure."

Bernadine Morgan, a hairdresser whose shop was reduced to a dusting of ashes when the appliance store below was torched, is one of many uninsured salon-owners who hope Dudley's offer will help them to reopen their business.

Morgan, who had worked alone in her old salon at Pico Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, grabbed only a blow dryer, a curling iron and her cosmetology license when looters entered the building below.

Now she operates with borrowed bobby pins and hair relaxers out of a salon a few blocks west of her old store. Her clients complain about the lack of privacy in the adjoining booths of the new salon.

Morgan also misses the old shop "like a first-born child," and she frets about how to return the seed money borrowed from her mother. While she listens to her customer's complaints, she stifles her own.

"It gets more and more intense, but you have to hold all that stuff in," she said. "In this profession, you constantly have to be positive and uplifting."

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