It was 10 p.m. on a recent Friday night and business was booming at The Experience Unisex Salon in Crown Heights. An interracial couple held an intimate conversation in French while they sat in the waiting area. A stylist tightly sewed wavy blonde extensions into her African-American customer’s hair. VH1 Soul played on the two large flat screen televisions filling the spacious salon with R & B.
Black-owned businesses like The Experience Unisex Salon are all over this working class neighborhood, which, according to the 2010 Census, is 72 percent black. But as gentrification seeps into the neighborhood, diversity has brought hope and new clients to this busy salon.
“We have clients of all backgrounds, Indian, White, Latinos, and Blacks,” said Khalil Wright, 37, the salon’s co-owner.
Wright and his partner Zakeyah Ryan, 32, opened the salon in 2006 and within three years noticed a change in clientele.
Blue-eyed and blond-haired, Nate Olson,29, has been a client of the Experience Unisex Salon since he moved to Crown Heights from Iowa three years ago.
“You can come here and talk to anyone about anything,” Olson said. “It’s definitely a place where all types of people catch up to talk about things going on in the community.”
The number of white residents in Crown Heights has increased 20 percent, according to the census data. For many of the black salon customers, this was their first time sharing a salon with white neighbors.
“I grew up in Crown Heights and before this shop, I’ve never been to a barbershop and a white man was in the chair,” said Amaechi Aneke, 30, as he watched his barber cutting a white customer’s hair.
On a recent visit, every customer was greeted with a hearty welcome from the staff and then waited patiently for a free stylist in one of the red, blue or yellow chairs.
“We are a black-owned business, but we don’t focus on the color of people, we see hair,” Ryan said.