Holding Her Ground

They huffed and puffed, but developers could not blow down Edith Younger-Huff's business

limited negotiating power, says Christopher Paladino, president of the New Brunswick Development Corp., the company in charge of the redevelopment project.

Just one month after the reporter told Younger-Huff that her salon would be demolished, revenues plummeted. “In November 1996, monthly revenues were down by about 6% ($1,200) compared with November 1995,” says Younger-Huff. “Employees started to leave because they thought we were going to be closed down. The lack of confidence really hurt.”

Feeling betrayed and financially unstable, the entrepreneur started a campaign to save her business. She wrote state and local legislators and then-governor Christine Todd Whitman; and she called everyone from the local media to her pastor.

According to Younger-Huff, the local newspaper constantly quoted her on the issue. And the salon’s 10th anniversary celebration even got front-page coverage in the town’s major daily newspaper, the Home News Tribune. Yet the press coverage seemed to have little or no effect. Redevelopment, it seemed, would progress. But Younger-Huff resolved not to leave until she had a fair deal or was physically forced out. “They can’t just move you and put you out of business. The city has to come to a settlement with you first,” explains Younger-Huff, who says she ignored letters about the planned demolition.

By January 1997, however, she and the remaining business owners on the block seemed to be losing the fight. Four property owners had already sold their buildings to developers and relocated for what she considered to be a fraction of their businesses’ worth. Younger-Huff said she witnessed one store owner get a relocation check for $25,000, just half of what she had spent to update her shop.

TURNING UP THE HEAT
So Younger-Huff went into action. She haunted city council meetings and kept writing letters throughout February and March 1997. She personally delivered a message to the prospective new tenant, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. “I left a note for a member of the UMDNJ board and said ‘I’m going to fight you all the way. You are trying to take my livelihood; I can’t let you do that.’” UMDNJ didn’t respond.

This might seem like an extreme measure, but to Younger-Huff, the shop and its location were her lifeline. A single parent raising a daughter, she had left corporate life behind in 1986, heeding the entrepreneurial call. Without a cosmetology license or a stitch of hair care experience, Younger-Huff mortgaged her home, paid $50,000 for the purchase of A Cut Above, and signed a lease with the building’s owner. “I wouldn’t advise anyone to buy a beauty parlor unless they were buying the building,” advises Younger-Huff in retrospect. “I ended up buying nothing–old furniture and one little customer who got his hair colored and cut once a month.”

But she did get one valuable thing with the purchase: the corner location. “I got a lot of walk-ins and by the end of the first year, we had built [a clientele],” she says. In one year, A Cut Above had four stylists on staff and Younger-Huff

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