Holding Her Ground

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

had started studying to get her cosmetology license in order to generate additional revenue. “By the third year, the shop reached profitability, and the 1990s were really booming,” she says. The shop had grown from four stylists to eight, and monthly revenues were as high as $25,000.

But by the spring of 1997, Younger-Huff was uncertain of her future on that same corner. Demolition had begun on neighboring buildings, and Younger-Huff knew the developers were becoming less patient as the July construction date drew nearer. The area around her salon was beginning to look like a war zone: Dust lingered in the air, bulldozers droned constantly, and metal fences and yellow tape marked off “danger” zones. Most of the street was blocked off to pedestrians, and customers were becoming scarce.

To retain her shrinking clientele, Younger-Huff reluctantly began scouting new locations. She had resigned herself to accepting a check that she’d negotiated with the developer for the deposit on a new place. Then her luck changed–for the better.

It turns out that an out-of-town client, Marilyn Ward Ford, was also an attorney. “I couldn’t afford an attorney and Marilyn was not licensed to practice in New Jersey, so she helped me negotiate, but she wasn’t technically practicing.”

She offered Younger-Huff invaluable advice and support. “While [I was] sitting at the shampoo bowl, Edith would casually tell me things that were going on,” recalls Ford, a law professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law in Connecticut. Ford decided to get involved and advise Younger-Huff in her negotiations.

Younger-Huff’s public relations and marketing efforts had also started to pay off. “I got phone calls from people all over New Jersey telling me to make sure Ms. Huff was treated fairly,” remembers developer Paladino.

Granted, some of the callers had only been to A Cut Above once or twice for a trim, but when your business is on the line, every hair counts. Rev. DeForest “Buster” Soaries’ hairs may have counted twice. Rev. Soaries is the pastor of the 6,000-member First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens. Did his calls to Paladino make a difference? “Well, he was on my board of directors,” says the developer.

Christy Davis also gave Paladino a buzz. A former colleague of Paladino’s, Davis was state chief of staff for Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.). “Knowing that I had some connections with public officials, Edith had reached out to me for advice,” says Davis, an attorney who now heads a consulting firm in Newark, New Jersey.

The fact that many of the customers who called Paladino lived at least 30 miles away was also important, says Paladino: It emphasized A Cut Above’s value to the community. “Here is someone who is running a hair salon that caters to the city like a theater would; people actually traveled there to get their hair done, and perhaps afterward might stay for dinner or lunch,” explains Paladino.

With only two months to construction, the city and the developers suddenly had a change of heart and began to negotiate with

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