#OTGYpsi: Ypsilanti Township's "Beauty Block" salons beautify the community on the outside and inside
Sarah Rigg's Feature Article: Ypsi Township's new "Beauty Block" of businesses support each other and their community
Rylee Barnsdale: You're listening to 89 one WEMU. Welcome to On the Ground Ypsi, a program created in partnership by WEMU and Concentrate Media. We're highlighting the stories of those improving and making a difference in the Ypsilanti community. I'm your host, Concentrate reporter Rylee Barnsdale. And today, we're learning about the Beauty Block, a stretch of women and people of color-owned hair salons and spas at Ridge Center on Ypsi Township's east side. Joining me from the Beauty Block is the owner and founder of the Curly Hair product business and salon, Original Moxie, Rachel Blistein. Hi, Rachel!
Rachel Blistein: Hi!
Rylee Barnsdale: Thanks so much for being here.
Rachel Blistein: Thanks for having me.
Rylee Barnsdale: So, Original Moxie is a long-standing business in the Ypsi community. You know, you opened up in 2009. You were developing this hair care line in your basement. Where did the idea for this kind of business sort of come from and what made you want to pursue it in this community?
Rachel Blistein: So, I moved to Michigan in about 2007, and I have, as you can see, very curly hair, which your listeners cannot see. But I was struggling with my own hair at the time. Michigan, as we all know, is extremely dry. And so, I had kind of a compounded issue of curly hair plus dry weather.
Rylee Barnsdale: Sure.
Rylee Barnsdale: I couldn't find anything to keep my hair moisturized. I had tried all kinds of super expensive and, you know, bargain basement types of products and still couldn't find that magic combination that was going to allow me to keep my hair healthy. So, initially, I just started experimenting for myself, and I wanted something that would be natural but also effective. And it very quickly ballooned out from there to me looking at solutions for other people that I knew. So, that was family members and friends. I happen to know a couple of people that were stylists, and so, they allowed me to experiment on their clients. And so, it went from sort of a personal hobby to a business in about two years.
Rylee Barnsdale: That's incredible. And I mean, it's amazing that you were able to pursue it the way that you did having that pipeline from, you know, "Oh, I just want products that work for my own hair to helping others that are maybe in the same boat of spending a lot of money on hair care products that they tend to get kind of expensive.".
Rachel Blistein: Yup.
Rylee Barnsdale: And in just four short years, you were able to open up and outgrow a brick-and-mortar store in Depot Town. And then, last year, you were the first of the current three businesses that made their home over in the Ridge Center shopping area. So, what kind of about that particular area drew you in and made you say, "I want to move my business here?"
Rachel Blistein: Well, first, starting my business in Ypsi was kind of a natural fit because of the area's long history of manufacturing. And, at the time, although it's less so now, property was a little bit more affordable in Ypsilanti than it was in Ann Arbor. And also, I live in Ypsilanti. I own a house here, and this is my community. So, I just really wanted to have my business to be a part of the community as well. We looked for a long, long time to try and find a larger space that we could grow into, but it's really, really hard to find manufacturing appropriate space that we could also have our salon adjacent. And so, Ridge Center was just the first space that we found that kind of ticked all the boxes. And it's flat. We don't have to go up a lot of stairs, which a lot of the historic buildings in Ypsilanti are kind of narrow and multistory.
Rylee Barnsdale: Not very accessible.
Rachel Blistein: Not super accessible. Exactly. So, this just allowed us to kind of move in a little bit more easily and smoothly than with an older property.
Rylee Barnsdale: This is 89 one WEMU's On the Ground Ypsi. I'm Rylee Barndale, and I'm sitting with Original Moxie owner and founder Rachel Blistein. I want to talk a little bit about the other businesses that make up the Beauty Block with you. You know, we have Anayah Beauty Salon, which is a high end braiding business, and Forever Beauty Company Salon and Spa, which is a family-run business that combines multiple beauty services all under one roof. How did you come into contact with the owners of these businesses? What made you want to kind of work together and develop this collective?
Rachel Blistein: So, I have to say, it was really just serendipity. We had moved into the space in 2022, and, at the time, there were a couple of businesses that were on their way out of that space. And then, we were by ourselves for almost a year before Anayah Beauty and Forever Beauty Co. both started to move in at the same time. We quickly discovered that we were really simpatico in that all three businesses are very focused on kind of beauty within and beauty without, so kind of addressing the whole person and making sure our clients are feeling good about looking good. And they're all really high-powered, incredible women. And I just was extremely lucky that we all found each other in the space.
Rylee Barnsdale: And you mentioned that, you know, for a brief time, it was just Original Moxie in this area. You mentioned in the article too, that there were a lot of different businesses that kind of came and went through the area. So, can you maybe talk a little bit about sort of the idea behind kind of marketing and branding Ridge Center now as the Beauty Block?
Rachel Blistein: Right. So, our businesses are very complementary. So, we focus on curly hair and kind of wearing the hair ini its natural curly state. As you mentioned. Anayah Beauty focuses on braiding. Forever Beauty Company, they're kind of the multitaskers of the lot because they do cosmetology and facial services, waxing brows, eyelashes, all of those things, in addition to hair. But all three businesses are focused on inclusive beauty, and it just seemed like a natural fit because we are basically offering comprehensive, inclusive beauty services under one roof, which I know is very unusual, both because I had that struggle myself when I first moved to the area and also just in speaking to our customers, it's really hard to find beauty places that both make customers of color feel welcome and in particular customers from diverse background. I mean, we're very focused on being LGBTQ-plus friendly in our business, and we want to just kind of create it as a whole space to make everyone from all walks of life feel seen and as though their needs are truly being met.
Rylee Barnsdale: This is WEMU's On the Ground Ypsi. I'm chatting with Rachel Blistein, the founder of the hair care business and salon Original Moxie. I love that you mentioned wanting to be inclusive and really just make folks feel comfortable and, in turn, make them feel beautiful as well. And I want to talk about the other initiatives that you kind of have going on, both at Original Moxie and are now kind of expanding to those other businesses at the Beauty Block. You have some services that affect the greater community--you know, trying to help children in need, get the hair care products and services that maybe they wouldn't be able to afford or their families might not be able to afford. Can you talk a little bit about that program?
Rachel Blistein: Yeah, absolutely. So, that's our Red Door program. And we conceived that program when we were just coming out of the pandemic, and we were unable to do larger groups and community settings because of the restrictions of COVID. And so, this is something that allows us to work one-on-one with children in need, whether that's socially or economically, to provide them with sustained continuous education and services around understanding and caring for their curly hair.
Rylee Barnsdale: And, in Sarah's article, she sort of mentioned some other initiatives that the other business owners are trying to get off of the ground through the Beauty Block. I saw a backpack and a clothes drive--something along those lines. What are some other things or ways that you want to see the Beauty Block sort of uplift the Ypsi community?
Rachel Blistein: Right. So, all three of us are very focused on engaging with the community and giving back to the community. So, you mentioned the backpack drive. I believe that is Lynnette Burrell from Forever Beauty Co. that's spearheading that effort. And all three of us are interested next year in collaborating on the Red Door program. This year, we didn't really have enough time to get that off the ground. And we've got a couple other community-oriented events that there's an opportunity for us to collaborate on. We're hopefully hosting one for SOS Community Services in January that I'm very excited about, and I'm hoping that all three of us can work together on that as well.
Rylee Barnsdale: And let's wrap up our conversation by talking about the future. Rachel, what is in store for the Beauty Block? What can we kind of expect in the following months or years? You want to bring more businesses into the space, given how much space you have. You maybe collaborate with other community partners. What can we sort of look forward to?
Rachel Blistein: Absolutely. So, we are really interested in getting more activity in our area. Where we are is really at a crossroads between so many different--you know, Ypsilanti, Canton, Superior Township. We hosted our first ever self-care fair this year, and we're definitely wanting to repeat that next year. That was a really amazing event that brought together all sorts of people from the community, including, like, the Ypsilanti District Library, Willow Run Acres. We had musicians. We had artists. And so, we're hoping to do more of that and have more pop-up types of events that kind of just really activate that corner and keep it really lively for the community.
Rylee Barnsdale: Thank you so much, Rachel Blistein from Original Moxie for coming out today to chat with me a little bit about the Beauty Block and some of the really amazing things going on over there, not only to keep our community looking beautiful, but also really aiding some folks in the community that really do need it. Thank you so much for coming on today.
Rachel Blistein: My pleasure. Thank you so much for having us.
Rylee Barnsdale: For more information on today's topic and links to the full article, visit our website at WEMU dot org. On the Ground Ypsi is brought to you in partnership with Concentrate Media. I'm Rylee Barnsdale, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM, Ypsilanti.
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