Norma Brown grew up in a small farm town in the Brazilian state of Bahia, a region she says is famous for its friendly people and Mardi Gras celebrations.
Now, more than 25 years since she left her native Brazil, Brown is hoping her friendliness—and skills as a hair stylist specializing in children—bring her success as a small business owner.
In October, Brown opened in Caldwell, a brightly painted space on Bloomfield Avenue where children can sit on a motorcycle or car while they get their hair cut. The young clientele can also choose between playing a video game or watching a favorite DVD to pass the time.
Brown previously worked for 10 years at a children’s salon at Livingston Mall, where she said she had a loyal following. When closed after several years at this Caldwell storefront, Brown saw an opportunity to go into business for herself.
She did everything from designing the logo to bringing in all new stations and creating a play area with books and toys to keep children occupied.
“The parents feel comfortable when they bring their kids,” she said.
Brown is doing a few things differently from the previous kids' salon owner, like opening for a few hours on Mondays and accepting credit cards. She has also posted a bulletin board on one wall where she picks a “prince” and “princess” each month from photos she takes of her newly groomed clients.
Not everything is new, however. Stylists Nilda and Mailza, familiar faces from the previous ownership, are now working for Brown.
The salon is ideal for first haircuts all the way up to children who are 8- to 10-years-old. Parents get a special certificate and a keepsake lock of hair with their child’s first trim.
Brown said working with children requires a lot of patience, because they tend not to sit still for very long. She said girls don’t ask for too much, but love getting their hair blown dry. The current trend for boys is to get “faux” hawks, Mohawks created by spiking hair down the center of the head with gel.
She said kids can be painfully honest. “If the kids, they don’t like it, they’ll tell you to your face,” she said with a laugh.
Brown, 48, left Bahia and came to New Jersey when she was 22-years-old and barely spoke English.
“I told my parents I’d stay for a year and I never went back,” she said.
She learned the language “on the street and talking with people” and eventually made her way through beauty school.
Brown said she feels proud to have her own business and is trying her best to make it work.
“It’s a great market,” she said about West Essex, “and I think it’s a nice store for around here.”