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Black businesses survive on the new Ocean Ave.

August 31, 2016

by Lee Hubbard

It’s a hectic afternoon at Diamond Hair Studio on Ocean Avenue in the Ingleside district of San Francisco. Bridget Miller, the salon’s owner and master stylist, moves in between her hair work station, to the sink, to the dryer, working on three clients in a matter of minutes.

Bridget Miller at her Diamond Hair Studio on Ocean – Photo: Lee Hubbard

Bridget Miller at her Diamond Hair Studio on Ocean

“It’s a busy day, but we make things happen at this shop,” said Miller. “Doing hair is my passion, and at Diamond Hair we aim to please and work our magic.”

The full service hair salon with three stylists and eyelash expert has been on Ocean Avenue the past 20 years. Founded by Miller’s mother, Paula Lamont, Miller now runs it.

As the racial demographics have changed in San Francisco – the Black population has shrunk from 14 percent to 7 percent in San Francisco over the past 20 years – the city’s overall population has increased. As a result, some Black-owned businesses, like Diamond Hair Studio, have had to adapt to survive.

“We work on all types of hair,” said Miller. “From Black, white and Asian women, even to some men. We do it all.”

In the 1970s through the 1990s, Ocean Avenue was a one-stop shop for residents of the Ocean View and Ingleside communities and neighboring communities from Glen Park and St. Francis Woods to Daly City.

Ocean Avenue once had a large share of Black businesses – more than 10 beauty and barbershops, two cleaners, a key shop, hat shop, several Black owned liquor stores, a tax office, a few neighborhood bars and a few food spots. Ocean Avenue even had a Black business chamber association called the OMI Business League, headed by Royce Vaughn, owner of a Black small business, which helped foster business on the street.

The full service hair salon with three stylists and eyelash expert has been on Ocean Avenue the past 20 years. Founded by Miller’s mother, Paula Lamont, Miller now runs it.

Like other small business economic corridors, where Black business thrived in San Francisco on streets such as Leland, Hayes, San Bruno and Courtland, Ocean Avenue has seen the swift demographic changes taking place that have impacted Black businesses elsewhere in the city and across the country.

“Now, there are a lot of Asian themed businesses on Ocean,” said Ella Wise, the founder and owner of Mahogany House of Styles, a full service beauty and barber shop that has been on Ocean Avenue since 1985.

“When I first came over here, there were a lot of Black folks and businesses on this street, but they moved out of the city, because they couldn’t afford it,” continued Wise.

This absence impacted Black businesses, as many people new to the community didn’t patronize the Black businesses. Today, Ocean Avenue is anchored by a Whole Foods supermarket and a Target Express in the middle part of the busy avenue. There are two pharmacies, a public library branch, a 24-Hour Fitness, yoga studio, coffee shops and various Asian themed restaurants and nail shops.

Like other small business economic corridors, where Black business thrived in San Francisco, Ocean Avenue has seen the swift demographic changes taking place that have impacted Black businesses elsewhere in the city and across the country.

There are eight Black businesses on Ocean Avenue, down from 20 or more 20 years ago.

“I don’t know what the future holds for Mahogany’s, but my granddaughter will be here, as she does hair,” continued Wise. “She can manage it, as the few Blacks in and around the city will still need a place to get their hair done. We will be able to do well no matter what happens in the city and on Ocean Avenue.”

Various apartment and condominium developments have also sprouted up on Ocean Avenue over the last three years. Other housing developments are also targeted for the area. This rash of new development has added an increase in foot traffic and more people on Ocean Avenue than ever before.

There are eight Black businesses on Ocean Avenue, down from 20 or more 20 years ago.

“In terms of foot traffic with the new supermarket and library on the street, people are walking up and down Ocean and they are shopping,” said Dan Weaver, executive director of the Ocean Avenue Association, a group that promotes Ocean Avenue.

“When you look at the evolution of a community, things change,” said Supervisor Norman Yee, who represents District 7, which Ocean Avenue is in the middle of. “Should things remain the same as they were 20 years ago? Or do we move on.”

Increase in rents on the street has been a factor in the business destabilization. Property owners are trying to maximize their rents. Yet a small share of Black businesses are surviving the changing San Francisco.

Diamond Hair Studio

Diamond Hair Studio

Miller’s Diamond Hair Studio is one. It has been a mainstay on Ocean Avenue, but three years ago, the beauty shop was close to being shut down. A dramatic fire shut down the business for 16 months as it destroyed it and eight other buildings.

“I was at home when my niece, Koshea Redwood, who is a stylist at Diamond Hair, called me and said the shop was in flames,” as it was being broadcast live on television,” said Miller. “I drove to the shop and saw it in flames with the other buildings.”

Some of the businesses damaged never reopened, due to a lack of insurance or sufficient money to recover.

“I was able to survive, but I lost a lot of clients as a result,” continued Miller. “I rented a work station down the street at Mahogany’s House of Styles and worked there until my shop opened back up.”

Diamond Hair Studio is back in business, nearly three years after the fire and reconstruction. Besides doing hair, Diamond Hair has a growing hair selling business; Miller sells to clients and other hair stylists around the city.

“Things are OK business wise, but they could be a lot better,” said Miller. “It’s hard to recover from a disaster like that. Plus the city didn’t help my business out with any type of disaster relief funds, which they did for some of the others businesses that suffered losses. But we are still here surviving.”

Another business that managed to survive the increase in rents and neighborhood changes in the Ocean area has been the Avenue Bar, owned by Bomani Caungula. “The Ave” is celebrating its 10 years in business this month, after an ownership change, in which Caungula took over.

“The Ave is a lively neighborhood sports bar San Francisco style,” said Coagula. “People come from all over San Francisco and neighboring cities to hang out at my bar. Also people from the city, who grew up around here and come back.”

Caungala said that despite the changes, there are still people in the neighborhood and surrounding areas who will get in there cars and drive to the Mission or West Portal to spend money, which disturbs him. Weaver said there are efforts to help the small businesses thrive and survive in the area. He said this largely comes from street beautification and public safety.

“We do a basic level of cleaning of sidewalks,” said Weaver of the Ocean Avenue Association. “We also plant trees and sidewalk gardens, paint poles on the street and try to make the area more welcoming.”

The Ocean Avenue Association also holds a monthly street fair, Second Sundays, in which music groups, street artists and craftspeople celebrate Ocean Avenue. This has improved the area and the atmosphere for small businesses according to Weaver. But he doesn’t know what it will take to improve Black businesses that helped anchor Ocean for many years, when it struggled commercially.

The Ocean Avenue Association holds a monthly street fair, Second Sundays, in which music groups, street artists and craftspeople celebrate Ocean Avenue.

Others, such as Supervisor Yee, believe that businesses are going to be stabilized in the area, including the small cadre of Black businesses.

“I think the future of Ocean Avenue looks good,” continued Yee. “We want to support small businesses so they can survive and thrive.”

Lee Hubbard is a Bay Area journalist who is well known to longtime Bay View readers. He can be reached at superle@sbcglobal.net.

7 thoughts on “Black businesses survive on the new Ocean Ave.

  1. Clara

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