The Ups & Downs Of A First Year In Business With Sara June Salon

The Ups & Downs Of A First Year In Business With Sara June Salon

As we know too well, opening a business — and keeping it open — can be a big challenge not just in Park Slope, but throughout New York City. So when Sara Gilmore decided Union Street was the perfect spot to take the plunge and open her own hair salon, it came with a number of challenges. From dealing with construction delays to navigating (and learning a ton of patience with) the inspection process, she’s managed to come out ahead because of her enthusiastic entrepreneurial spirit.

In the year since she opened Sara June, Gilmore’s learned a lot, and, to her credit, she’s hoping to share some of what she’s learned with other business owners. As she celebrates the shop’s anniversary, we asked her a few questions about the business landscape and what she would change about it if she could — plus we got a great lunch recommendation out of her.

Park Slope Stoop: Tell us a bit about your salon — ­­ what’s your background in the salon business, and how you did you come to open your own space?

Sara Gilmore: Sara June opened for business on September 25, 2014 (I’m actually writing this on September 25, 2015, so it’s officially been a whole year!). We’re right on the edge of the Slope but “legally” we’re in Gowanus. You can find us 618 Union Street, sandwiched between Station Diner and Dinosaur Bar-B-Cue. Come in and say hi!

As for my background, I’d been doing hair back in Utah for 10 years before moving out here five years ago, and worked in salons in both Manhattan in Brooklyn. Honestly, the thought of opening my own salon never crossed my mind until about two years ago. But once I got the idea in my head, I just kinda jumped in with both feet. It was the scariest time of my life, but I learned so much about myself and, now, looking back on the past year, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

What were some of the most challenging aspects in opening the space?

Sara June was my first crack at starting a business, as well as my first experience with construction. Being a bright­-eyed, naive 31-year-old, I thought that a full gut renovation would take two months or so. And let me mention that for a start­up with a limited amount of funding, two months seemed painfully long. But, of course, I was way off and construction ended up taking much longer. Nine months in total. Each month was another punch to my gut (and blow to my pocketbook). It was super scary. And I felt very alone in the fight to get through special inspections, plumbing inspections, expeditors, and the DOB. I didn’t feel like anyone in a position of power cared about me. And no one was looking out for me. It was terrifying.

Congratulations on your anniversary! What’s one of the most important things you’ve learned in your first year in business?

My first year running a business has been one of the best years of my life. There are countless lessons learned. But the most important thing I’ve learned is this: surround yourself with entrepreneurial types. They’ll work hard, they’ll show up, and they’ll strive for personal success.

And that, in turn, makes it easy to support and empower them to get what they want. When you empower the people who work with you, it’s a win­-win situation. And I just love the energy that entrepreneurial self­-starters bring to the table. I thrive off of it.

Do you feel like there have been ­­ or will be ­­ any specific regulatory obstacles that have gotten or could get in the way of your growth?

Once I opened my doors, we were through most of the regulatory “red tape.” But before we opened, we really struggled with the city’s plumbing inspections. We had the same inspector each time, and he failed us five times in a row. My plumber would fix the issue within 10 minutes of the failed inspection, but then we’d have to wait for 10 days until our next scheduled inspection. So there was a two-­and-­a­-half month period of just sitting on the space waiting for inspections! We would fix everything he said to fix, and each time he would find something new to fail us on. It was really tough. And it was expensive to have to sit on the space like that. Ahhhh, it’s stressing me out just thinking about that!

Are there any issues you’ve had to deal with that have been specific to the area you chose to open your shop that you thought could have been handled better by the city?

This is definitely trivial but sticks with me: Union Street is windy. And our A/C unit drips condensation out the front of our space and creates a lovely stream across the sidewalk every day. The wind then carries trash down the lane and seemingly, with extreme care, places all the garbage in our stream. It looks really bad. But that’s the only negative thing about our specific area so far. I feel extremely lucky that this is my biggest complaint.

If you could change one thing about the rules the government has for operating your business, what would it be?

I would like to be able to train a stylist from scratch, as an apprentice. NYC law requires that people go to Cosmetology School, which costs around $20k and then they have to spend 1­3 years training under a stylist anyway. I would love to give people the option to surpass school and learn their craft in a real-life business setting.

Have you spoken with other local business owners about issues that come up with the city in running a business? Is there any common complaint that comes up again and again?

The most common complaint is the construction permitting and inspection processes. For me, and other owners I’ve talked with, it’s clear that the city and inspectors just don’t care if you pass. For example, they only want to talk to the “master plumber” and not the person (i.e. me, or the plumber who is actually on site) who has the most vested interest in ensuring the inspection is passed. And while I understand that they are just doing their jobs, I think the process and power dynamic could be tweaked a bit to provide more support and voice for the business owners.

With all that being said, I’ve heard that Comptroller Scott Stringer has set up a Red Tape Commission that will allow for small business owners to submit testimony to business stakeholders and the Comptroller’s office to improve relations between small business and city government. I’m honestly so excited about this development and plan on submitting testimony as soon as I can, and I encourage other small business owners to do the same –­ it’s the only way we can fix this process.

That’s a lot of questions about “worst” and “challenging” issues — ­­ what’s been the best thing about opening a salon in New York City, and specifically in Gowanus?

I couldn’t be more thrilled about opening in Gowanus, and specifically on Union Street. Before I got the lease at 618 Union, Dinosaur Bar-B-Cue and The Green Building/501 Union were both thriving. And after I got the lease, Royal Palms opened and then the amazing Ample Hills got its start. These small businesses are all succeeding and making a name for Gowanus generally and Union Street specifically. It’s an exciting street to be on for sure. And I’m just glad I can be a part of it all!

Speaking of fellow local businesses, are there any favorites you like to visit nearby?

I get a salad from Wangs at least once a week. It’s beautiful and delicious. I also love The Sackett for drinks. They are pretty much family to me. I also really like Threes Brewing. The garden is perfect for after­-work drinks, and the rotating kitchen is always exciting.

Is there anything else you’d like neighbors to know?

Sara June is open seven days a week, and we have some of Brooklyn’s most­ talented and interesting stylists working here. Seriously, I love them all so much and I want everyone to see it for themselves. So stop by and say hello!

I also want to be thought of as a resource for other small business owners and aspiring small business owners. I’m not claiming to be an expert on these issues (yet, haha), but I’ve gone through the process with the city, and I’m passionate about getting other people to follow their dreams of starting their own businesses. I love talking about this stuff, so feel free to email me at sara@sarajunebk.com.

Sara June is located at 618 Union Street, between 3rd and 4th Avenues. Appointments can be made online or by calling 718-797-5300.

Comptroller Scott Stringer’s Red Tape Commission will take place on Friday, October 16 from 8:30-10am at Brooklyn Law School (Geraldo’s Cafe, Feil Hall, 1st floor) at 205 State Street in Downtown Brooklyn. All NYC business owners are welcome to attend — if you’re a business owner who would like to submit written testimony or comments, send them to redtape@comptroller.nyc.gov.

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