By Sean Yoes
AFRO Baltimore Editor
syoes@afro.com

Owner of Mane Obsessionz salon in East Baltimore is symbolic of the struggle of many small business owners across the nation

Black women are notorious for being serious about their hair. And Baltimore has historically been one of the leading cities in America when it comes to taking care of the hair of Black women.

Indeed, discerning the most talented hair wizards in the city is a very subjective endeavor, but there are some who have commanded respect and stayed relevant year in and year out.

LaShuan Noakes, owner of Mane Obsessionz salon on Harford Rd. in East Baltimore is one of those master hair stylists.

LaShuan Noakes, owner of the Mane Obsessionz hair salon on Harford Road (left), with one of her many very
satisfied clients. Despite the ups and downs of the hair industry, Noakes has remained in business as a salon owner
for almost 30 years, until she was forced to close her doors recently because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy Photos)

Noakes, who graduated from Eastern High School in 1986, has been professionally doing hair since 1989 and has owned her own salon since 1992. But, through good times and bad times nothing has shuttered her business until the onslaught of the global coronavirus pandemic.

“The business is always up and down, which I’m used to,” Noakes said. “But, never totally stopping.”

According to a story in the Harvard Business Review, by Catherine Monson published March 27, local and state government shelter in place mandates are having catastrophic impacts on millions of small businesses across the nation.

“These institutions are crucial to our nation’s economy, employing 58.9 million people in the United States, or about 47.5% of the total private sector workforce. Their GDP contribution measured $5.9 trillion in 2014, the most recent year for which small business GDP data is available,” according to Monson.

The truth is it is virtually impossible to practice social distancing in a hair salon or barbershop, although Noakes said she took all precautions possible while her salon was still open.

So, currently the stylist is making deliveries for Amazon and Whole Foods, as well as driving for Uber and Lyft to make ends meet, since she was forced to shut down her successful shop in the wake of the coronavirus crisis on Feb. 23.

But, Noakes, who contributed her professional expertise for an AFRO hairstyle guide for the holidays in Dec. 2018, said she believed change was imminent in her industry before the pandemic wave washed over the globe.

“To be truthful, it actually started around the holidays. Something just told me to add some extra things,” said Noakes. “Then around December, I applied for the Amazon Flex. It’s been a shift in the industry…so I was like I need to protect myself for my down moments,” she added.

“What happens is your clients age with you. So, with the natural hair revolution…I lost a lot of my clients, they are people who wear natural short bushes, or wigs. A lot of them I do wigs for them.”

But, for Noakes, who went through a difficult divorce a few years ago, there is more pressure on her financially to make ends meet. She was so successful as a salon owner she says she pays child support to her ex-husband. “So, I have to get out here and do what I have to do,” she said. 

“It used to be busier,” said Noakes of her driving gigs that supplement her lack of income. “But, it’s more sporadic now.”

As the coronavirus continues to take its toll in America and around the globe, on various levels, Noakes believes we should prepare for permanent changes.

“I don’t see anything returning back to the way it was. It’s going to make me better with time. It has made me better with my thinking,” she said. I’ve never had a boss before so now I’m following instructions (on the day the AFRO spoke with her, Noakes was  planning to make an Amazon pick up in Hanover, Md.).

A self-described optimist, the entrepreneur seems determined to make the best of the daunting challenge. 

“I’m glad I was in good health. It’s just tiresome, but I’m good,” she said.

“I’m adjusting. You have to adjust instantly. It’s like you have to shape shift to your environment, for the betterment of things, if not you’re just going to be lost.”

Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor