Despite Bad Economy, Black Hair Businesses Booming

In a time where it seems most businesses are on the decline, hair salons are on the rise. The Census Bureau recently noted their jump in an otherwise glum report about mom-and-pop businesses, stating that the number of hairdressers and barbers and the shops that employ them grew by about 8 percent from 2008 to 2009.

Apparently, getting a haircut is one of the last expenses that consumers are willing to give up. And people who run salons never have to fret that their work might be outsourced. “We don’t have to worry about someone flying to China to get their hair cut,” said Charles Kirkpatrick, director of the National Association of Barber Boards of America. “Barbering is not going away.”

Mr. Kirkpatrick muses that the rising number of haircutters could be the recession. “There are people saying, ‘I got to look good, I’m trying to get a job,’ ” he said. “And you know, a bad attitude with a good haircut can fool you sometimes.”

He is not very far off in his assumptions, people who were battered in the economic downturn have definitely turned to haircutting as a quick career change. Fabulocs, a hair salon in Capitol Heights, Maryland, employs several refugees from the recession. One has a master’s degree in education. Another worked as a manager at a Circuit City store. Seven of the nine stylists there have been to college.

“It’s a sensitive subject,” said Nimat Bilal-Young, 34, the owner. “That moment of, ‘You’ve got a master’s degree and you’re a stylist?’ ”

But that is nothing to be ashamed of as Ms. Bilal-Young has tapped into a growing demand among black women for natural hairstyles. Her salon now has 12,000 Facebook followers, a line of hair care products and more clients than she can handle. She is considering franchising.

“It’s not like other industries where you’re trying to find customers,” she said. “The customers are trying to find you.”

Tarsa Scott, a single mother, started working with hair in 2008 after her business as a real estate broker dried up. “I wanted to do something the market wouldn’t have such a drastic effect on,” said Ms. Scott, 37. “Women may slow down with how often they get their hair done, but they’ll always get it done.”

Getting your hair done, said Ms. Bilal-Young, “is like when your house is clean. Everything seems better.”