Big businesses have been known to oppress small businesses, but diversity inclusion has also been a challenge for economic stability in the United States. Inclusivity even means supporting local Black-owned businesses. There are six reasons why everyone should support Black-owned businesses: closes the racial gap, strengthens local economies, fosters job creation, celebrates black culture and serves Communities, holds other companies accountable and prospers visibility and representation in the green economy.
The Albion Pleiad aims to spotlight local Black-owned businesses. Though a few articles in this series are dedicated towards Black History Month, like this one, it’s important to note that celebrating Black-owned businesses is just as necessary beyond Black History Month.
Irene’s Superior Unisex Salon
Irene Gamble, Albion community member and owner of Irene’s Superior Unisex Salon, first opened her business on March 12, 1991. Persuaded by her aunt Julia Patterson, Gamble graduated with a diploma from University Barber College in 1971. She worked as a barber for her aunt’s business, Starr Commonwealth, and provided services for funeral homes. Patterson planned to work with Gamble in her business, but Patterson’s health conditions didn’t allow for the opportunity.
“My aunt Julia Patterson, who is deceased at this time, she persuaded me to go and get my own business because she was tired of her business,” said Gamble. “I worked with her for 20 something years at Patterson House’s Styles. She says to me ‘Irene, why don’t you get your own business?’”
Gamble has customers from the college, the community, out-of-town and even some of the Detroit basketball players. She has also taken community members under her wing during hard times.
“I ministered to the prisoners,” said Gamble. “I always think of them, which helps brighten their day, because when you go to prison, a lot of times your loved ones and your so-called friends have the tendency to forget about you, so I ministered to the prisoners and the sick.”
Based in Albion, Gamble created a community throughout her journey as a business-owner and barber. Gamble set certain rules in her salon to invite an atmosphere of respect: No drugs, no profanity and no running in and out of the barber shop.
“I enjoy serving the community, which has been over 50 years. I enjoyed my customers coming in and they respected me, and they always reached out to me,” said Gamble. “[They] always asked me if I needed something: Did I need them to go to the store for me? Did I eat my lunch? They were always caring, and they cared about me. Same with me. I cared about them too. And I didn’t have any trouble out of any of them, nothing has ever went wrong down there because they respected me and I respected them.”
Gamble worked long hours, sometimes from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. in a single shift. Alongside her shifts, Gamble had clientele that kept her going. Her clientele respected her and would return to her salon for more than just a haircut.
“My mother was always like a mom to them, and, like she said, she would give them respect and they would respect her,” said Phyliss Gamble, Irene Gamble’s daughter. “She’s also spiritual. She would talk about God with them, spiritual things with them. That was a good point too on some of her customers because they would come back. ‘That’s my mom,’ they would tell me. I said ‘I don’t mind sharing her.’ So, that’s the way they communicated with too. She was like a counselor, another mother, another mother to them, or auntie or big sister.”
Like many other businesses, Gamble had to close her doors due to COVID-19.
“I wasn’t getting a lot of customers at that time because a lot of people were off work,” said Gamble. “I was off because the government shut us down for so long, so that did affect my business.”
Throughout the years, Gamble witnessed businesses come and go, such as cosmetologists Luticia McGee and Sheila Dunklin, retired barber Joe Atkins and Cuts by Moose. Dedicated to her business and community, Gamble is seeking out family members, licensed cosmetologists and barbers to keep the business open.
“I would love to keep it open for the community because we only have one barber in Albion, which just opened up, and I believe one Black beautician,” said Irene Gamble. “It’s a lot of work standing all day, and I don’t know how long I’ll do this, even if I went back to work at this point, but I’d hate to close it up because of the community. We need some more barbers; we need some more cosmetologists. I’m looking for some licensed barbers and cosmetologists.”
Gamble has also enjoyed mentoring aspiring barbers and cosmetologists in pursuit of their goals and dreams.
“If they were freshly graduated and licensed, she would allow people to come down, even if they did grow and go on to other places, said Caresha Kendrick, Irene Gamble’s granddaughter. “I know that’s one thing she has enjoyed over the years.”
In the 50 years that Gamble has served her community, she thanks God for allowing her to continue throughout her journey.
“It wasn’t I that kept me going,” said Gamble. “I give all honor and glory to God. He was the one that kept me going. That’s why I said God must be first in life. Won’t he do it.”
Irene’s Superior Unisex Salon is located in downtown Albion.