This Whitehaven entrepreneur is bringing a new hair studio to his community with help of EDGE loan

During a time when many business owners are hunkered down in economic survival mode, local entrepreneur James Cook is busy building a new dream.

With help from a $16,000 EDGE Inner City Economic Development loan, the Whitehaven resident and Hattiloo Theatre actor is transforming a property at 1237 Marlin Road into the Nubian Design Studios.

Cook anticipates a ribbon-cutting in early 2021.

Cook said they're branding it as a design studio because, like other shared creative spaces, the salon's stylists will have full creative license and control of their own business.

“There are other salons in the area, but what separates me is the stylists will have their own spaces. They’ll be their own bosses,” said Cook. “You come in and rent your own studio space and do what you want."

The 2,074-square-foot building will include salon suites for two barbers and three hair stylists. Cook’s brother Marcus Snipes is a master barber and will manage the business.

Cook is using his ICED loan to replace the salon's roof, install a new HVAC system, renovate the exterior and bring the property into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

He admitted he learned about ICED by eavesdropping.
James Cook stands in the driveway at 1237 Marlin Road in Whitehaven. Cook is transforming the property into a salon for barbers and stylists. He expects it a ribbon-cutting ceremony in early 2021. (Ziggy Mack)
While eating at Eggxactly Breakfast & Deli, he overheard Adrienne Johnson at another table discussing the program and asked for more information. Johnson is director of research for the Economic Development Growth Engine for Memphis and Shelby County or EDGE, which issues ICED loans.

EDGE provides and coordinates public resources across the county to drive economic development. Their ICED initiative aims to foster revitalization in inner-city neighborhoods through forgivable loans of up to $25,000. Applicants match $1 of their own money for every $2 that ICED provides.

Eggxactly Breakfast & Deli is another ICED loan recipient and is located across the street from Nubian Design. Muggin' Coffee is just around the corner and also received an ICED loan.

Related: "Whitehaven wants a coffee shop. Local entrepreneurs are stepping up."

Cook contacted Trey McKnight to help him get his application rolling. McKnight is executive director of Greater Whitehaven Economic Redevelopment Corp. and has so far assisted at least 15 area businesses in receiving ICED loans.

“Whitehaven is open for business and we want to help foster growth of big and small businesses in our community,” McKnight said. “Nubian Design Studios will give our community another amenity that they don’t have to leave the community for, so we can keep our tax dollars in Whitehaven.”

Now that Cook has the application process down, he said he doesn’t plan on stopping. He has ideas for more businesses, including a studio where local youth can record and edit digital projects, such as YouTube content and online gaming videos.

Ultimately, Cook’s goal is to build up Whitehaven.

“The main thing is giving back to the community that shaped and molded me. I’m from Whitehaven, I went to school at Bishop Byrne, I grew up off Shelby Drive,” he said. “If I can do this, I want to show other people they can do it too.”

The property at 1237 Marlin Road is under renovations and will soon house the Nubian Design Studios salon, owned by Whitehaven native James Cook. Cook is one of over a dozen entrepreneurs in Whitehaven who have received forgivable small-business loans from the Economic Development Growth Engine for Memphis and Shelby County or EDGE. (Ziggy Mack)

EDGEing Towards Success 

Cook has a history of entrepreneurship and currently manages the Lenny’s Grill & Subs and Runway 901 Bar & Grill at Memphis International Airport.

He originally purchased the property on Marlin with a long-term vision to renovate it over time whenever his savings allowed. The EDGE ICED program put Cook’s plans on a fast track.

Since 2014, EDGE has approved 67 loans totaling more than $1.5 million. The resulting projects have invested about $7.6 million into the local economy and created or retained over 650 jobs in Shelby County communities.

EDGE’s Payment In Lieu of Taxes incentives fund the ICED loans. That program provides tax abatements to larger developments in return for financial commitments to local women and minority-owned small businesses.

After thorough vetting by EDGE staff, ICED loans are approved by the EDGE Economic Development Finance Committee, which consists of bankers, accountants, and other small business advocates.

“We, as staff, work very hard to make sure that when we bring a project before the committee, we’ve dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s and we understand the project well enough to ensure a very high success rate,” said Reid Dulberger, EDGE's president and CEO.

Cook’s application hit all the success marks.

“The neighborhood would be well-served by this salon and we were very impressed by James’ energy,” Dulberger said.

“This is a person who will not take ‘no’ for an answer, and that kind of commitment is critical and never more so than today, given the pandemic. He’s extremely impressive in his preparation and in the way he’s approached his project.”
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Read more articles by Erinn Figg.

Erinn is a Memphis-based freelance writer with 11 years of experience as a beat journalist, columnist, editor and freelance writer for a variety of publications. Erinn is also an award-winning PR professional who has worked with local firms archer>malmo and Obsidian Public Relations. Contact Erinn and follow her on Twitter at @allcapsERINN.