Come Right In: How I Started My Own Business
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because a place of your own can make you swell with pride.
By Anthony Hamilton
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From what I knew as a child, no one in my family had ever held a position or done anything significant in or outside of the community. Until, that is, my father opened up Hamilton’s Carpet, off of South Lancaster Road in Dallas.
Owning your own business had always been something the white man did; very seldom did I see or hear of someone of color owning a business. It was spring break; I was 14 and had agreed to work for my father, a carpet layer for as far back as I could remember. He picked me up and we drove to what I thought would be a customer’s house to lay carpet. Instead, my father turned left on Lancaster Road and parked in front of an unfamiliar building.
There was nothing special about the building, nothing that caught your eye or made you wonder what was for sale inside. It appeared to be leaning to the left, was in dire need of a paint job and the front door was dangling from its hinges. As I stepped out of the truck, I could see my father’s chest swell as big as Texas with pride. He looked like a Brahman bull. Still, I couldn’t help but ask, “Hey, Dad, this isn’t your shop, is it?” “Yeah, Skip,” he replied affectionately, “this is yo daddy’s place!”
So there we stood, at the side of the raggedy old building, Hamilton’s Carpet, a place he could finally call his own, and that single fact made me swell with pride too. Sure, it needed work, and the first thing you saw entering the shop was a front desk that teetered so badly someone had put a perfectly cut square block beneath one leg for balance. The carpet on the shop floor also looked worn, which puzzled me: If you’re selling carpet, wouldn’t you want the carpet that customers walked on to be nice?
My father was a miser and he didn’t care much about appearances. Or the shop’s smell, which was like a multitude of other people’s houses. Every time we laid new carpet for a customer, we tore out the old, salvaging whatever portions looked clean. We’d measure that portion, roll it, tape it up and resell it as new, without ever cleaning it.
But none of that mattered to me — what did matter was that I got to see a man’s dreams come true. People would say, “So, your father lays carpet?” And I could answer, “Yes, and he has a shop over there on Lancaster!” That sense of pride stuck with me from age 14 on. I started telling myself that one day I would have my own business too, just like my father, even if I didn’t know what it would be.
Like my father, I had always been pretty good with my hands, and I took to cutting hair like breathing. I was working days as a robotics operator and cutting hair at night for extra cash. Once I started making more money cutting hair, I decided to enroll in cosmetology school and earn my license.
When I discovered that I could make more money cutting men’s hair than women’s, I focused on being the best barber I could be. After 17 years of working for someone else, the idea of having my own place and achieving what my father had achieved was appealing. I reached out to other people and asked for help locating a space where I could embark on my new journey.
Within two weeks, I received a call from a real estate agent who said he had a few places to show me. I had specifically told him that because my clients were based in the Mountain View area, I wanted to keep them there. I met the agent at a gated place less than a mile and a half from the shop where I was working. “Good evening,” he said. “You must be Anthony.” My heart raced and I hoped that whatever was inside that building would give me the necessary power to move forward. I smiled; I could feel my father’s spirit walking in with me.
The place had been a salon before it shut down for more than two years. I don’t know if it was a sales technique or if the agent was telling the truth when he quickly said, “I’ve already shown it to at least three or four other people and have another three or so to show.” I responded, “Sir, I don’t know who you’ve already shown this place to, and I don’t really care who you are going to show it to next, I need to be here.”
A part of me felt like Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman looking into the stern face of the no-nonsense drill sergeant played by Louis Gossett Jr. Gossett takes Gere outside in the rain, hoping to force him to quit, but he refuses. Then I thought of the doubters who had said I couldn’t do this, that I couldn’t be on my own, and said to the agent, “Sir, I’ve got to be here. I’ve got nowhere else to go.”
The man turned and walked away before turning back toward me. His mother, he revealed, was also a beautician. He described her as hardworking and admirable, then added, “I have never seen you cut hair, but I have a feeling that you must be good at what you do.” I watched as a man I barely knew reached into his pocket, pulled out a set of keys and held them out to me. “It’s your place,” he said. “Something about you tells me that you’re perfect for this building.”
I couldn’t move. I felt like my father must have felt the day he got the keys to his shop. I felt like the astronauts must have felt the first time their feet touched the moon. I had done it — I had gone and placed my feet firmly on floors that were mine. The man reached out to shake my hand and seal the deal. Out of pure elation, I hugged him. That hug said everything I was feeling at that moment. The macho part of me would not allow any tears, but I cried inside. He said, “Take the keys. We’ll do the paperwork later.”
On no other day in my life, but at that very moment in time, there had to be a God, because no one else could have given me this chance. And now, five years later, I am the proud owner of Studio 364 in Mountain View, a block from Castro Street, in an alleyway called Cherry Lane.
This editorial article was originally created by OZY Media and published on OZY.com prior to, and independently of its inclusion in this JPMorgan Chase & Co. sponsored series. OZY Media claims the full rights and responsibilities of this article.
- Anthony Hamilton, Anthony Hamilton is a writer who lives in Hayward, California. He is the author of several books, including The Autobiography of Strong Child and Shattered Lives.Contact Anthony Hamilton