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Daily Journal
     February 24, 2020      #85-55 KDJ
 

Beauty salon owner has grown successful shop in

By Lee Provost
lprovost@daily-journal.com


KANKAKEE — Ruth-Anne West-Thomas knew from about the age of 11 what she would spend her adult life doing.

Not only what she would do, but how she would do it.

The 46-year-old has been a professionally licensed cosmetologist for 29 years, all in Kankakee County.

An African American and mother of two, West-Thomas is absolutely clear on one point: She does not consider herself a role model. She started her own salon as a young women because she couldn’t see herself doing anything else.

She also couldn’t see herself working for anyone.

“I just hated working for someone. I wanted to call the shots,” she said. “I wanted to be in direct communication to the boss.”

How could she have any better access?

The 1991 Kankakee High School graduate, who after graduation attended Broadway Beauty School in Bradley, has been operating her newest location of Just Between Us Hair & Natural Beauty, 209 E. Court St., Kankakee, for the past eight months.

LONG HOURS

West-Thomas routinely works from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday in her downtown Kankakee shop. Her business model is not unlike the majority of black-owned businesses across the country.

According to a 2018 U.S. Census Bureau report, of the approximate 2 million minority-owned businesses, only about 107,000 have employees other than the owner.

While there are other women working inside her shop, they are basically independent contractors who provide other beauty services such as Tracy Caldwell-Vedette, makeup artist; Chystal Truner Clark, licensed nail technician; Tatyana Stampley, certified lash tech; and Chakevia Lewis, master braider.

“It’s great being the boss,” West-Thomas acknowledged. “I’ve worked hard. This hasn’t been easy. By no means has this been easy.”

Just don’t use two words — role model — around her.

“I just want people to not see me so much as a role model, but as what they can be,” she said. “We all are given the same 24-hour opportunity. Are you going to lay in bed or walk around kicking rocks?

“If I can do this, others can, too. We are all given the same 24 hours. But I can only really speak on two things: entrepreneurship and hair. That’s what I know.”

‘WHAT I LOVE’

The mother of two said hard work and dedication are the keys to operating a successful business, but she believes her biggest key to success is loving the work she does day in and day out.

“It’s not work when you love it, and this is what I love.”

She noted she was 11 years old when she had made up her mind that cutting and styling hair would be her life’s work.

One of the many people whose glad West-Thomas followed her heart is Jeff Davis, a 38-year-old Kankakee man. Davis has been a client of her’s for the past six years.

“I love her customer service. She knows what she’s doing, she’s a real professional,” he said.

Interested in starting his own business — a men’s clothing line — Davis often seeks advice from his stylist.

West-Thomas interrupts. The advice is free, she noted, but not the time in her chair.

He chuckles.

Prior to establishing the East Court salon, West-Thomas operated out of the Majestic building in downtown Kankakee for the prior seven years. She had worked in the Meadowview Shopping Center prior to that and also for a stint on West Broadway Street in Bradley.

BEATING THE ODDS

To be operating an independent business for nearly 30 years, West-Thomas is beating the odds.

According the census statistics, while blacks make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population, the group comprises only about 7 percent of the country’s business owners.

However, black-owned small businesses is one of the top growth areas in the country.

According to a report “2019 Trends — African-Americans In Business” by Guidant Financial, from 2012 to 2017, minority small businesses grew by 79 percent. From 1997 to 2015, the number of businesses owned by African-American women grew 322 percent, making them the largest growing group of entrepreneurs at that time.

Whatever reports and studies might indicate, this salon owner knows one thing for certain. On average, about 100 people walk into the appointment-only shop on a weekly basis seeking one of the beauty services provided.

It is up to her to make sure each and every customer returns, meaning they must be taken care of in the best way possible.

“It’s hard to get started and be successful. It’s even harder when you are black, but you can do it. This means something,” she said of owning her own business in downtown Kankakee at the intersection of Court Street and Schuyler Avenue.

“People don’t just have to work out of their home or in some small off-the-beaten-path location,” she said. “... It’s not easy. I get tired. But I never want to quit.”

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Lee Provost
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