It’s 10 a.m. on a Monday in the New Center area of Detroit.
Woodward Avenue is nearly clear in the block that crosses West Grand Boulevard, and many of the businesses have yet to open. In the midst of the newer shops – some selling Muslim hijabs, others selling clothing or food – there is one that has stood longer than the rest.
Inside Praise Him Beauty, Barber & Nail Salon, 6505 Woodward Ave., is a barber on duty, cutting the hair of a young man dressed in business attire. The coarse pieces of hair fall onto green and black tiles as the sound of oscillating fans and daytime television set the ambience.
Praise Him Beauty, Barber & Nail Salon has stood for 13 years, even as the neighborhood changed around it.
The shop is among the 50,000 minority-owned businesses that call Detroit home.
“Being consistent, the community and the atmosphere we carry within our business – those are two or three of the major things that kept us in business,” says owner Miles Nelson, 31.
Nelson became owner of the salon in 2012 after taking over for his mother, Sandra, who opened the shop in 2004. Sandra’s desire to create a welcoming environment for Christian believers like her inspired the gospel songs she played – and the name of the business.
“I would be lying to God if I played any other type of music because the way I live, I live to praise Him,” says Sandra. “It has been working for Miles as well because people come to the salon because of that name. We don’t drink alcohol. We don’t drink beer. We don’t have a lot of cursing and carrying on there. It’s very respectful to the community.”
Customers at the salon respect that about Praise Him, Nelson says. So when he took over the business it was important for him to maintain the atmosphere. A simple prayer, “Lord Bless This Salon,” on a handmade sign, hangs from one of the mirrors. Others say “No children unless being serviced” or inform customers checks are not accepted for payment.
Images from African American and Christian culture hang on every other part of the wall. Madame C.J. Walker, an African American hair care entrepreneur, appears in one frame, while a larger photo of a black woman with natural hair and a bright smile is displayed near the washing stations.
“People just come to the shop for the atmosphere on top of the business we provide and the services we provide,” says Nelson. “We keep people satisfied.”
He sees barbering as a profession that serves the community. Barbers play the roles of educators, fathers, and brothers to many, he says.
“It’s something that you’ve got to love to do, especially being in the community because you have all different types of people who come in there,” he says. “You’ve got to know how to be professional to whomever. You can’t judge anybody.”
Through the years, Nelson has had faithful employees working at Praise Him, including fellow barber Robert Crooms and a natural hairstylist.
DeVon Glass, an employee since 2006, gives press-and-curls and quick weaves. Glass enjoys the relaxed, peaceful work environment. “I had worked at one other salon, once before, even though it was very temporary, and it was more unprofessional and uncleanly,” he says.
Above anything else, a family environment has kept Glass at the salon.
“The fact that all my customers felt at home (is important),” says Glass. “All of the employees who had ever worked there, we’ve all been like family.”
Terena Coleman has been Glass’ customer for more than 10 years.
“The experience when I visit Praise Him is usually relaxing, always good laughs and peaceful music,” she says. “I am always happy with my hair, and the environment, over all, is warm, like a family away from home.”
Despite a reputation for customer satisfaction Praise Him has faced a few issues. In late July 2014, the QLine, originally known as the M-1 Rail, began construction on Woodward Avenue. Without free parking access, customers had to find other spots or pay $5 at the lot behind the building. Nelson estimates about six other businesses closed because of issues related to QLine.
“We lost a lot of money during the construction period, and it put us quite a bit in a bind,” says Sandra. “By the grace of God, we remained open.”
When the construction ended, Nelson says outsiders to the neighborhood came and bought vacant spaces, pushing out long-time business owners. Combined with the QLine, the new presence has altered the neighborhood.
“With all the investments they put in these buildings, bringing in new businesses to the community and helping them succeed by investing in them, they should invest in the people who have already been here,” Nelson says. “That would be a good thing for the city.”
The owner of Praise Him’s building died and offers have been made to purchase it, but no sale has been confirmed. Nelson hopes whoever buys it will work with him to keep the salon there, but, for now, he can’t be sure.
Both Nelson and Sandra have no desire to quit, even with the changing neighborhood surroundings.
“We’re going to keep going, no matter what the changes might be,” says Nelson. “We’re going to stick to what we know best.”
— Lead photo: Miles Nelson stands in front of his shop, Praise Him Beauty, Barber & Nail Salon, at 6505 Woodward Ave. Photo by Elayne Gross
Editor’s Note: Praise Him Beauty, Barber & Nail Salon is located at 6505 Woodward Ave., Detroit, MI 48202. Call (313) 871-7390 or visit them on facebook.
This Small Shops feature is sponsored by Bank of America.
To learn more about Bank of America’s many programs and resources for small business owners visit: https://www.bankofamerica.com/smallbusiness/business-financing.go.