By Alexander Houston
Considerable discussion has been given this issue and with good reasons. We are, after all, a nation of immigrants. I have heard the debates in various legislative bodies, for I try to stay current. That is why I am in LOVE with the Cspan app for phones and tablets. And yes, I admit it. I am an app nut. Cspan 1,2&3 are on my phone along with Cspan radio. Therefore my addiction is fed anytime and anywhere. And the national immigration debate has gotten plenty of air time as listening choices for the Cspan junkie. A fire has been burning in Frankford for over 10 years now. It is being fueled by immigrants and laced with 3 things that nearly all Americans desire: convenience, discounts, quality, and speedy service.
With a drive down Frankford Ave (under the el) one cannot help but notice the myriad nail salons and barber shops. From Pratt to the Church Street station my quick count yielded 18 barbers and 13 nail salons or beauty shops. Some are owned and operated by African-American stylists, but a great many are now run by Vietnamese entrepreneurs. With more choices the residents of Frankford and other communities have much to gain. But I want to talk about what makes this a positive invasion.
The Asian nail stylist have been around for many years, and I suppose those who make frequent trips to these salons realize the benefits of competition and speedy service. I’ll take your word for it though, for I do not patronize these shops. A simple nail clipper is sufficient for me. Then, there are the convenience stores, restaurants and hardware depots. All of these are beneficial to the community, but honestly, I still prefer to make the occasional trip out to The Home Depot. However, not all folk have ready transportation for such excursions. So one has to be delighted with these industrious proprietors because good occupancy is far better than any vacancy.
And, oh yes, I remember the time when I would have to plan on a long wait to get a hair cut. I would spend 3-4 hours in the barber shop. I hated it and so did my boys. In addition, the cost was $15 a head and that did not include the tip. Hair cut day was a painful experience.
Shortly after moving to Frankford I saw the signs. Hair Cut $5, and I was thrilled. However, I had become used to my barber. I thought; only he knew how to cut my hair. I did not know if I trusted these other people. They were foreigners. Do they possess the skills? Would I be sorry? I did not dare, but increasingly new shops opened. Recently, I spoke with Kevin Gillis , a longtime resident of Frankford who also witnessed the explosion of Asian barbers in both Frankford and Kensington. Kevin, a longtime customer of the Son barber shop recalls the first store opening by Mr Son in the 4400 block of Frankford Ave. Later, Mr. Son moved the business to the 4500 block and the Win family purchased the old Son store and expanded the property which is adjacent to the nail salon in the 4400 block. Later, a third store opened down the street in the 4500 block and a stylist who worked at the 2nd Son family shop moved to the new store. The barber shop openings did not stop, and the stores seemed to do a brisk business!
I took the plunge and have been going ever since. It’s a no brainer. Good service, very little wait time and I save over 60%. Shame on me for not trying earlier. If you are not too concerned with an occasional barber switch and labored communication between you and the stylist, one can be in and out of the barber shop with only a dime in the meter. That is fantastic, and a good cut at $5; what’s not to like?! I am not going back to the old barber. These immigrants have found a niche and have supplied the need. What’s more, it has forced other barbers to reduce their prices. Additionally, Frankford Ave. no longer looks like a prize fighter’s smile. Stores have occupants and the avenue seems to be taking steps back to its former brilliance; the thriving, bustling shopping community of yesteryear.
As for the legitimacy and tax status of these immigrants, we’ll have to leave that to senators Shumer, Feinstein, Klobuchar and Grassley along with other members of Congress. But please be aware, Washington is a bit dysfunctional nowadays, so don’t hold your breath. We then (as long and short term members of the Frankford community) must realize the benefits. We must respect these persons, for we remember that ‘affording respect…. begets respect’. Consider what we would pay in time and money if their services were not available, and what would be the state of our avenue without them. Immigration is beneficial. It may be pervasive, but it is not always intrusive. As Kevin Gillis says they’re talking about us in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and if we prove ourselves amiable and respectful we could see Frankford’s stock rise. Then her citizens could be credited with having created a more perfect union, and we will have given the better angels of our nature the last word.