McHenry County Black business owners connect to build community, share resources

In Black communities, people don’t go to the salon or barber shop only to have their hair done.

A wash, cut and blow dry for Black hair can take two hours, minimum, said Donna Lowe, owner of the Donna Lowe Salon in Algonquin. That is why she has worked to make her salon part of the larger community, giving members a place to meet and talk whether they get their hair styled and set at the time or not.

“Our salons are not just a place to get hair done. It is where community meets and talks. It is intergenerational conversations with organic discussions,” Lowe said.

On Sunday, working with the now-organizing McHenry County African American Business Association, Lowe invited the community to learn about some of the county’s Black-owned businesses.

There are several of them, said Emily Ferguson.

Ferguson, 66, moved to McHenry County three years ago from the Beverly neighborhood in Chicago after her daughter and grandchildren moved to the county.

Emily Ferguson, left, presents Donna Lowe and Gloria Dillard with certificates recognizing their work as Black small-business owners in McHenry County during a Black History Month event Sunday in Algonquin. Janelle Walker/Shaw Local News Network

Since the move, she said she’s become involved at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake, earning certifications in leadership and working toward a certificate in entrepreneurship.

She and others want to build a business group to help those small Black-owned businesses succeed.

“It is about access to information, access to grants and programs,” Ferguson said.

When these business owners connect, they can find out about programs and grants they may not hear of when going it alone.

Helping each other learn is something Lowe said she does at the salon, and not for only Black clients. She teaches hair classes for girls groups to instruct them how to care for their textured, curly hair. She also works with adoptive and foster parents who may not know about the particular needs Black hair has and how to style children’s hair.

She’s has hosted Juneteenth events, is planning a Women’s History Month event in March, and is always open to making her salon available for get-togethers.

“I want to be there, not just as a Black salon, but for people with passion and knowledge on any topic. McHenry County does not have a space to talk like that” for people of color, Lowe said.

Starting a new business is challenging for anyone, Lowe added.

According to the Illinois Black Business Survey, released in February 2023, eight of 10 Black-owned businesses “fail within the first 18 months,” a statistic Lowe repeated.

When working together and sharing resource information, that number can improve, she said.

Among those who attended the Black History Month event Sunday were several McHenry County Board members and board candidates, Algonquin Village President Debby Sosine and U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, a Naperville Democrat.

Many small businesses struggled to survive during COVID-19, Foster said, but now “is a really good time for small businesses.”

Sosine said she always appreciates when celebrations recognize the diversity of small businesses in town. “They build the community, and we will do everything we can to support them,” she added.

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