Juana Blanco, owner of the Continental Beauty Salon in Fordham Heights, is not interested in politics. She lets pretty much anyone post signs on the salon window, including the campaign poster for councilman hopeful Randy Abreu.
Two weeks ago, however, Blanco opened her salon as a meeting space for the Association of Beauty Salons, which Abreu attended, and where dozens of small business owners pledged their support for the aspiring councilmember.
“He’s visiting all the small businesses, because he’s supporting the small businesses,” says Blanco.
Abreu, a lawyer who worked in the U.S. Department of Energy during former President Barack Obama’s administration, is making a bid for the Council seat in District 14 against incumbent Fernando Cabrera. Felix Perdomo, a school teacher, is also on the September 12 primary ballot.
In cultivating voters like the salon owner, Abreu might be succeeding at rallying people who were not previously involved in politics. Blanco admits she does not know who the incumbent in District 14 is, and up until she hosted a meeting, Blanco was not a member of the Association of Beauty Salons. But she says that business owners like herself want to learn how to expand their businesses, such as with websites and legal literacy. More importantly, she is concerned about rising rents and harassment from landlords across Bronx.
While Blanco says her landlord is nice, she is currently on a lease for five years, and says that the rent gets higher and higher. “My rent now is $5,000,” Blanco says. “Next year, the rent is $5,500.”
Abreu says he decided to run, mainly because he sees that gentrification will impact the Bronx just as it had in Williamsburg, West Harlem, and San Francisco. He worries that business owners like Blanco will not survive if current policies continue.
“The fact that Jerome Avenue is being rezoned, and the real-estate lobby is getting their way, it would hurt me, I don’t know how I could live with myself, knowing that I didn’t do anything,” he says. “These are the people that I grew up with.”
Small businesses in the neighborhood are not just valuable to customers; they are also a hub for entrepreneurs of color. “Almost all the businesses,” says Blanco, gesturing out the window to the shops that line her block, “In the shop, in the deli, in the barbershop, every small business is Spanish business.”
The answers to the problem of rising commercial rents will not be simple, however. While Abreu says that he can try to guarantee business owners like Blanco longer-term leases, he believes it is better to use a cooperative model, an approach he says is unique to his platform.
“It’s something in my opinion that couldn’t be more democratic, it’s the people running the show and making the decisions,” says Abreu.
“We’re paying over 60 percent of our income right back to landlords,” says Abreu. “When we explain the cooperative model, we’re saying over half of the money they make doesn’t go to Wall Street, but stays right here in their home, and invest in their future, and to live their best life.”
While beauty shops might have banded together against the common threat of rising rents, they are still competing for customers. Currently, Blanco, who has owned her beauty salon for seven years, is looking to expand the services in her small shop, and explains how beauty trends are changing all the time. Recently, she has had small tubs constructed in the back of her salon for pedicures.
“I want to be the number one in this area,” Blanco says.