Black-owned Berkeley beauty salon struggles with closures

A beauty salon owner in the East Bay said she's anxiously awaiting word about when she'll be allowed to re-open.

She said these past two months have been difficult for her and her primarily minority female staff.

Rika Ward-Hunter, who's black, said she worked hard to build her beauty salon business.

Now, she's working hard to comply with new restrictions and provide good customer service.

Braiding hair is a childhood passion that led the 32-year-old to open The Braid Bar & Beauty in Berkeley.

With the help of a relative, she showed KTVU the braiding work she did for clients before the pandemic.

She said being forced to close since the shelter in place order has been a struggle.

"I was freaking out to be honest with you. I wasn't sure what we were going to do, how we were going to make ends meet," said Ward-Hunter. 

She said she's now relying on savings and hoping she can reopen in June.

Ward-Hunter started the business nine years ago as a 21-year-old.

She did not receive a bank loan. Support came from family, friends, and clients.

She now has three locations: one in Berkeley and two in Oakland. 

The set up inside the Berkeley salon had chairs side by side -to promote socializing.

"We tried to create the cubby space with six feet apart," said Ward-Hunter as she pointed to the new floor plan set up to comply with social distancing, using mirrors as dividers. 

"We'll have have to try to get creative and think outside the box," said Ward-Hunter.

She has a dozen employees, primarily minority women; half are from Africa.

"They still have have their families depending on them, sending money back home. It's been a hit for everybody," said Ward-Hunter. 

Some employees are single mothers including Anna Williams, a nail technician.

"To not be able to see them or interact with them on a daily basis is extremely hard and extremely stressful to not have that social release that we are all used to," said Williams.

Ward-Hunter, an Oakland native, said she misses volunteering her services at homeless shelters and encampments where she and her staff provide free haircuts and other services once a month.

Coming from a family that had financial struggles, she said it's important for her to give back.

"It was just hard. I didn't grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth. I didn't come from a family with money. It's really hard to get out there and ask for help," said Ward-Hunter.

The salon owner said she takes pride in being self-reliant and that she's barely making ends meet.

She said she's working on her website to be able to sell products and teach people how to do their own hair online.