Black Businesses Fight to Survive on Ocean Avenue

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In the 1970s and the 1990s, Ocean Avenue was a primary shopping location for residents of the Ocean View and Ingleside communities and neighboring communities such as Glen Park, St. Francis Woods and Daly City. 

 

Ocean Avenue shops had a large share of Black businesses that kept the street relevant, with more than 10 beauty and barbershops, two cleaners, a key shop, hat shop, several Black-owned liquor stores, a tax office, neighborhood bars and a few food spots.

 

But as the racial demographics changed in San Francisco, the Black population has shrunk from 14 percent to 7 percent the past 20 years, while the city’s overall population has increased.

 

Black businesses that once thrived on Ocean Avenue have disappeared and a few are holding on.

 

“Now, there are a lot of Asian themed businesses on Ocean,” said Ella Wise, the founder and owner of Mahogany House of Styles, a full service beauty and barbershop that has been on Ocean Avenue since 1985.

 

“When I first came over here, there were a lot of Black folks and businesses on this street, but they moved out of the city, because they couldn’t afford it,” said Wise.

 
Today, Ocean Avenue has a number of new apartments and condominiums. The street’s business sector is anchored by a Whole Foods Supermarket and a Target Express.

 

There are two pharmacies, a public library branch, a 24-Hour Fitness, Yoga studio, coffee shops and various Asian themed restaurants and nail shops. There are eight Black-owned businesses, down from over 20, 20 years ago.

 
“I don’t know what the future holds for Mahogany’s, but my granddaughter will be here, as she does hair,” continued Wise. “She can manage it. The Blacks around the city will still need a place to get their hair done.”

 

“In terms of foot traffic with the new supermarket and library on the streets, people are walking up and down Ocean, and they are shopping,” said Dan Weaver, executive director of the Ocean Avenue Association, a group that promotes business on the avenue.

 

“When you look at the evolution of a community, things change,” said Supervisor Norman Yee, who represents District 7, which Ocean Avenue is located.

 

“Should things remain the same as they were 20 years ago? Or do we move on?” Asked Supervisor Yee.
Increasing rents on the street have been a factor in business destabilization. Property owners are trying to maximize rents. But, there are still a few Black businesses surviving the changing San Francisco.

 

Diamond Hair Studio is one of them. It has been a mainstay on Ocean Avenue for 20 years, but three years ago, the beauty shop came close to shutting down. After a dramatic fire the business was closed for 16 months when it and eight other buildings were destroyed.

 
“I was at home when my niece Koshea Redwood, who is a stylist at Diamond Hair, called me and said the shop was in flames,” said Miller.
Some of the damaged businesses never reopened, due to a lack of insurance or sufficient money.

 

“I was able to survive, but I lost a lot of clients as a result,” continued Miller.

 

Today, Diamond Hair Studio is back in business. Besides doing hair, Diamond has a growing hair selling business, which Miller sells to clients and other hair stylists around the city.

 
“Things are ok businesswise, but they could be a lot better,” said Miller. “It’s hard to recover from a disaster like that. Plus the city didn’t help my business out with any type of disaster relief funds, which they did for some of the others businesses that suffered losses. But we are still here surviving.”
 

Another business that managed to survive the neighborhood changes is Avenue bar, owned by Bomani Caungula. The Ave is celebrating 10 years in business this month.

 
“The Ave is a lively neighborhood sports bar San Francisco style,” said Caungula. “People come from all over San Francisco and neighboring cities to hang out at my bar.

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