Portfolio Hair & Beauty Works.
“This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward.” –Walter Benjamin
For Hillcrest, with the gentrification of the neighborhood, the boom and bust of the dot-com and housing bubbles, and several recessions, its has been a rough couple of decades. Few business have survived, as up and down the main street of University Avenue, vacancies and new stores flicker back and forth, up and down the streetscape in an eternal revolving door of “Coming soon” and “Vacant” signs. The rotating nature of the community adds variety and diversity to the area, and few business have been able to endure Hillcrest’s test of time.
With an understated sign, you might miss Portfolio Hair & Beauty Works as you walked by if you weren’t paying attention. But Portfolio is the embodiment of the philosopher Walter Benjamin’s angel of history. Surrounded by the debris of a neighborhood in perpetual flux, Portfolio stands, endures, as an institution in the community. With almost three decades having passed since opening, it is the oldest salon in Hillcrest. In 1995, when Judy Yastic took over the lease on Portfolio, there were many things she wanted to change, but the name was not one of them.
Updating the store, the interior was remodeled, keeping only the antique deep shampooing basins. But Judy refused to change the name or make any drastic changes to the layout. For her, the space is like a blank canvas, giving stylists the freedom to develop and design their individual and unique form of art, as Judy says, “its important to have freedom in working environment, stylists are artists and need to create.”
With a client base of about 300 regulars, there are customers that have been coming for decades, walk-ins, and some who left San Diego years ago, and return to find Portfolio as the one constant amidst a sea of change. What keeps them coming back? “Service. We work with clientele, helping each other. We are willing to do what it takes to keep coming back, even if that means lowering price. Must be flexible and willing to change with times. The people come first. I keep it affordable for clients.”
They also give extensively to the community. When the shop is slow, they will give the homeless residents free haircuts to help the people and the neighborhood. Without a website or computers, Judy waves away the fads of technowizardrey, instead utilizing the oldest form of social media, name recognition and word-of-mouth advertising. She still does her financials by hands, using notebooks to keep track of the business and maintain her records.
The favorite cut this season seems to be the Brazilian, as several clients and stylists happily chat away in various stages of shampooing, highlighting, cutting, or drying. Judy reminds everyone as she gives me the tour, “if you ever aren’t happy after a few days, we want you to come back, we will change it. It’s not about the hairdresser, it’s about the client.” Rather than pay for marketing and advertising, Judy prefers to give clients the best deal possible, that way the savings is passed directly on to the client and keeps them coming back.
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