Roots run deep at Dean’s Beauty Salon and Barber Shop. It’s the kind of place where “new” clients have been going there for a dozen years. Where “family” isn’t just blood relatives, but several generations of friends and neighbors—and their friends and neighbors.
“We’re loyal to the soil,” owner Kim Brown said recently, remembering how folks called or stopped by her house when the salon was closed during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some dropped off cleaning products and paper goods, saying they’d picked up a few extras “for the shop.” Others sent money. “They were like, ‘Oh, this isn’t for my hair. This is just for you if you need anything,’” Brown said.
That’s how things are at Dean’s, Portland’s longest-running, continuously Black-owned business. Brown’s grandparents, Benjamin and Mary Rose Dean, opened the shop in 1956 on Northeast Hancock Street. It was just a few doors down from their family home, which the couple purchased for $900. Mary Rose had her stylist license from the Madam C.J. Walker School of Beauty and had been doing hair from the house but needed more space.
The Deans came to Portland from Alabama in the 1940s during the early decades of the Great Migration, when millions of Black southerners moved north to escape segregation under Jim Crow. By the time the couple started the salon, their location in the Eliot neighborhood was at the heart of Portland’s Black community.
In a nod to the shop’s importance to Portland’s African American community, the state recently supported Brown’s nomination to include the salon in the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.
“They built the shop, and the rest was history,” Brown said. “It was never something to get rich on. It was always something that was ours, and that the family could continue on.”
Brown’s mother, Gloria Tims, took over in 1979. When Tims retired, the shop passed to Brown. One day, she expects her sons to run a business from the storefront.
The neighborhood around the shop has changed over the decades as new developments came in and longtime residents moved farther out, but past remains present at Dean’s.
The store still has its original layout: barber shop to the left, salon to the right. Portraits of Brown’s grandparents line the walls. Clients’ school photos, family portraits and candids smile from above the stylists’ work stations. Newspaper clippings highlight athletic and business achievements across the decades. And a display cabinet in the front room holds photos of Dean’s friends and family with visiting dignitaries, including portraits with three presidents: George H.W. Bush, Barack Obama, Joe Biden.
As steadfast as Dean’s is, unfortunately some things do have to change. The salon recently raised its prices slightly to help absorb rising costs from inflation. “At the end of the day, everything has went up,” Brown said. She was looking for ways to save and found one solution through Energy Trust.
In February, the salon swapped its outdated fluorescent tube lights for energy-efficient LED versions, a change that will shave an estimated $200 a year off its energy bills. Brown qualified for the free upgrade through Energy Trust’s no-cost lighting offer for small businesses.
“My motivator is to make sure that the shop is in its best possible condition when I turn it over to my children,” she said. “If that’s solar panels at some point, because that’s going to be the wave of the future, or if it’s new lighting, or if it’s tearing out a wall and putting another shampoo bowl in, whatever it is, I will do it to facilitate that. And if I can get some help to do it, then I’m all for it.”
Dean’s didn’t have to close during the lighting project because the contractor worked around the stylists’ schedules. They installed the lighting system on the barber shop side when there were customers in the salon, and vice versa. That sort of flexibility may seem like a small thing, but Brown said it was a significant benefit since Dean’s has staggered appointments to keep occupancy low during the pandemic.
Asked if she would recommend the incentive program to other small businesses, Brown didn’t hesitate. “Absolutely,” she said. “It was seamless. Everything went perfectly.”
To see how Energy Trust can help your business run better with energy-saving tips and resources, visit www.energytrust.org/for-business.