Few, if any, local business owners in Jamaica Plan can boast that they grew up in the neighborhood, forged a career for decades in the neighborhood, and will retire in the neighborhood.
One such person is Joy Silverstein – the founder and owner of Fresh Hair on South Street near the Monument. Silverstein is a rare example of a native Bostonian who stuck out the hard times, and has enjoyed the good times and is now looking to draw a close to her 37-year-old anchor business on the corner of South and Carolina.
In that time, more than 280 people have worked for her (and her original business partner Marie Doucette) and thousands upon thousands have had services done at the salon. Too many, in fact, to accurately count.
Believe it or not, Silverstein told the Gazette she’s not tired of doing hair.
She’s tired of running a business.
“I do still like doing hair, but I’m tired of running a business,” she said. “When you own a business, the buck stops here. We run out of toilet paper, it’s my problem. If someone doesn’t show up to work the front door, it means I have to do double duty. I have to greet people. I have to mop the floor. That part has all taken its toll and it’s been that way for a long time…
Silverstein said when she was in her 30th year of business, she began to look around for a successor. There were hopes that one or more of her stylists would purchase the business, but that never came to be. This past July, with 37 years at the helm, she simply announced to the staff that it was over.
“I said, ‘Ok, that’s it,’” she said. “I had to put a date down and go. I put down the winter solstice, which is perfect.”
And there are no regrets, she said.
“I just want to sit still,” she said. “I’m going to sit in front of my fireplace and read a book. That’s my first goal. Eventually I’ll do more of what I normally do, like going to Yoga. I’ll probably get politically involved in the 2020 election. I might someday do hair for a few people, I don’t know. I just don’t want to be responsible anymore.”
She will close the business for good on Saturday, Dec. 21, but will have a reunion-type open house on Dec. 23 from 2-8 p.m. and on Dec. 24, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the shop. It will be a time to reconnect, say good-bye and enjoy old memories.
Silverstein didn’t come to JP during college, nor did she settle here after college.
She didn’t seek out an inviting refuge for the young and hip in JP.
In fact, she grew up here, settling with her family in 1956 at the age of 5. She attended the Manning School and then Girls Latin School – which at the time was in Dorchester’s Codman Square.
She recalls the days growing up in Jamaica Plain when things weren’t as lively, or as safe, as they are now. Growing up on Moss Hill, she said they would walk down the stairs and cross over the circle to Centre Street.
They were never allowed to go beyond Curtis Hall to South Street (ironically, where her business has been for decades), and they were never allowed to go past the Post Office on Centre Street.
She recalls taking the grates off of her business, and the advent of Whole Foods into Hyde Square where the old Hi-Lo Supermarket used to be.
“Things have definitely changed,” she said. “JP used to be thoroughly working-class and a lot of elderly and families – working-class families. People here worked in the trades or in public service. Then we got all the lesbians and then the hippies came. Then it became the hipsters and now it’s the Millennials and GenXers, like my niece, who come in and create stroller traffic.”
From her thoroughly JP background, Silverstein opened Fresh Hair in 1982 on South Street with Doucette. Silverstein had gone to college and hoped to be a social worker, getting a job in Roslindale for a few years working with teens. However, getting the advanced degree for social work was going to be time consuming and expensive, and Silverstein said she had always been the one to cut and style hair in college. Before that, she did the hair of family members. It had always been a “thing” for her, something she enjoyed. So she pulled that skill out of her back pocket and went to cosmetology school.
Soon after graduating, she was working on Newbury Street in a salon and met Doucette, who also lived in JP. It wasn’t long before they agreed that they should open their own salon in their own neighborhood. That happened in 1982, and the two started very humbly and continued to expand their client base – which in the end was about one-third men.
A major change in the business came in 1998 when the Doucette moved to Florida, and the Rusk family – who owned her building at the time – hit a speedbump. Apparently, one of them had gotten into some hot water with the feds selling tainted meat out of a South Boston cold storage facility and the rest of the family didn’t want to deal with the real estate.
“One of the sons walked across the street to my salon in 1998 and wanted to sell the building,” she said. “I called my mom and she said there was an inheritance from a family member they had been holding for me, and so I used that for a down payment on the building. That’s how I got the building in 1998. There I was, I had a building and I was suddenly alone in the business.”
However, she thrived in running Fresh Hair, and expanded it greatly and kept the salon well-appointed in all seasons – even starting the Fresh Copy Business Center aside the business.
A hallmark of the business has been the environmental consciousness and the sustainable concepts that Silverstein has incorporated into the business. They were the first Green Salon, and they always strived to use natural products as much as possible.
“Both Marie and I were vegetarians and I’m still a vegetarian,” she said. “I’ve tried to always use natural things. When we first started it was hard to find that kind of stuff, but now it’s a lot easier. Now you can even find organic hair coloring. You didn’t have that when we first opened.”
In 2001, they were the first to put solar panels on their roof to augment the heating of water. They led the charge on it, with Fenway Park becoming the second commercial entity to try it. So many years later, she said it has helped the environment and has translated to a lot of savings on her utility bills since they use a lot of hot water.
“Over the years, it’s paid itself back,” she said.
Now, in the last days of the long-time business, Silverstein said she is looking forward to connecting with everyone at the two open houses on Dec. 23 and 24. However, she said it will be a solid ending to a solid career in her hometown.
“It’s just time,” she said. “I’ll miss talking with people. My job is to chat. I spent a half hour to 45 minutes with a lot of people every six weeks. I know their stories. I’ve never gossiped. I’ve always tried to be a good boss, to pay well and to be generous.”