Locally-owned business brings jobs back to Frayser

Godfrey Otubu is launching a new business in Frayser that he believes will benefit the community.

Stylist Salon at 3240 North Watkins Street will offer beauty and barber services primarily to women seeking organic skin and hair treatments, with six booths operated by licensed cosmetologists and stylists-in-training.

“I always wanted to create something where I could help people, while at the same time make a living out of it,” said Otubu, who is originally from Nigeria but has lived in Memphis for many years.

He graduated from the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria with a degree in business administration and he has managed a couple of restaurants over the past several years, including a Shoney’s in Memphis.

Otubu plans to restore a rundown 1,064-square foot building originally constructed as a home in 1940. He purchased the house, which had previously been used as a hair salon, last fall.

“That parcel has been a blighted eyesore for a lot of years, so putting it back into constructive reuse is certainly a welcome thing,” said Steve Lockwood, executive director of the Frayser Community Development Corporation.

“Watkins is one of the most important gateways or thoroughfares in this neighborhood, and that section of Watkins has frankly not been very nice. There are a bunch of empty parcels in that area, so it’s great that Godfrey is stimulating some good new activity there.”

Vacant storefronts on Watkins Street in Frayser. (Renier Otto)

Otubu has already lined up two stylists to work at the new business, and he plans to hire several more in the next couple of months.

“We’re going to open it with the intention to transform youth and have them a place where they can work,” said Otubu. “We’ll be training some youth around the neighborhood for their first jobs, and with time I hope to link it with the local hair schools. The purpose of this is just to make sure that we get the youth going and get people into the business.”

Predominantly a bedroom community, until the 1970s Frayser benefitted from local industry thanks to International Harvester. When the plant closed in 1978, the decline of neighborhood-based jobs began.

“That’s a problem, and when combined with the fact that transportation to jobs from this neighborhood is inadequate, it’s a double whammy,” said Lockwood. “So anyone who can provide jobs here is great.”

The new salon will also sell hair and cosmetic products.

Otubu was recently approved for a $15,000 Inner City Economic Development loan that he will use to bring the property back to life. The loan is provided by the Memphis-Shelby County Economic Development Growth Engine.

“After I bought the house and had begun renovating, I was starting to deplete my cash, and someone mentioned EDGE to me. So I reached out them with the hope of getting some money so I could finish up,” he said.

Boarded-up houses on Watkins Street in Frayser. (Renier Otto)

The EDGE funds will help with façade repair, HVAC installation, roof repair, and interior improvements. Total renovation costs are estimated at $22,635.

“The porch will be rebuilt, and we’re getting ready to take off the roof and put a new one up there,” said Otubu. “We will get it painted and replace all of the windows, carpet, and toiletry. I just ordered a new set of six brown styling chairs, along with new wash sinks and dryers. It will be really looking good once we finalize everything.”

Otubu is using subcontractors from the neighborhood to handle most of the work. He hopes the renovation will be completed and the business will be ready to open within three months.

“The neighborhood is accustomed to this place being a salon in years past, so I’m excited to bring it back for them,” he said.

The ICED loan program’s purpose is to spark revitalization of Memphis inner-city neighborhood business districts through small forgivable loans to assist with building improvements and business expansion.

“The appetite for redevelopment in the North Watkins area is pretty strong, including from us at the CDC,” said Lockwood. “If the properties near to the upcoming Stylist Salon are fixed up, more businesses will want to locate in them as well.”

Otubu plans to further invest in the community by launching additional businesses.

“I’m trying to make people come up and get involved and get the community moving better than it was,” he said.

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Michael Waddell is a native Memphian who returned to Memphis several years ago after working for nearly a decade in San Diego and St. Petersburg, Fla., as a writer, editor and graphic designer. His work over the past few years has been featured in The Memphis Daily News, Memphis Bioworks Magazine, Memphis Crossroads, the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Contact Michael.