I’ve lived in Champaign-Urbana for the past five years, but would you believe this is the first year I’ve gotten my hair done out here? No, it hasn’t been five years since I last got my hair done. I’m from Chicago, so I travel home for a very talented stylist to bless my crown. But it was too much going back and forth, and I wanted to be able to make a quick appointment and not have to drive over an hour for a touch up. Which brings me to my latest black owned business feature: The Beauty Bar.

The shop is located north of Bradley across from Kraft. I’d heard of the salon through word of mouth, which are the best recommendations because you have a personal connection to someone who enjoyed their experience. After I heard about the shop, I looked up their work online and was impressed enough to make an appointment for myself. From sew-ins and extensions to braids, styles, and color, they do it all. They even have their own hair and body products available for purchase inside the shop. Only one person has tightened my locs for the 9 years I’ve had them, so you can imagine I was slightly apprehensive about having someone new embarking on the journey, and yes, it’s definitely a JOURNEY. Tightening each single loc tiny of mine is very time consuming, but this stylist made it neat! So after she finished my hair for the first time, I couldn’t help but smile, and at that moment I knew, I’d be back.

Niesha Young and Ashley Rochella in high school

From her good work, and long hours in the chair, I got to know the woman with “gifted hands”, Niesha Young, and the owner of The Beauty Bar, Ashley Rochella (shown in top photo). Both ladies got their start doing their own hair in middle school, and from there, their experience level increased along with their clientele. Their skills weren’t a secret in school, and more and more of their friends and people around town wanted in. That led to them charging for styles and taking hair more seriously. By high school, people knew their work and they had a lot of business. To my surprise, it was high school boys that were the most consistent clients, wanting the latest braided styles. But the similarities in their stories are not by chance. The pair are best friends, they attended many of the same schools, and started looking at hair as a career at around the same time. They traveled different paths to get there, and both realized doing hair professionally was a lot more work than either of them initially planned. Rochella recalls, “People go into it thinking ‘oh I’m going to do hair’…No! There are requirements. There are things that you have to do to get through the whole process.” And she struggled to balance that workload with everything else that was going on in her life.

Eventually, they both graduated from cosmetology school, and gained new experiences, working in/with various shops and stylists in around the state. But the pair weren’t separated long. Rochella called Young to come back to Champaign, so they could work together. The Beauty Bar started in a studio apartment in town, but as word got around, they outgrew the space. Rochella opened this new location in March 2016, and Young has been here, by her side ever since “doing hair in a creative expression.” Young loves being able to help people express how they’re feeling on the inside, through styles and colors. “Doing hair is deeper. Gets down to how you feel about yourself, makes you feel better."

Niesha Young

Both women love being in control of the atmosphere inside the shop, something that wasn’t an option at other places they worked, and really feel it’s the main thing that sets this salon apart from the rest. For Rochella, being in control of her work environment was so important, it motivated her was to quit “shop hopping”, and create her own brand.

“As a black woman, there are so many obstacles. But every experience is going to help you throughout life.” As a business owner she doesn’t want people to be afraid to step out on a whim, and is happy she has had the strength to take on the challenge and make it into a reality.

So if you’re looking for quality service, good conversation, and a style you’ll love, check out The Beauty Bar off of Bradley and Mattis in Champaign. They work with kids and adults so everyone can get their fix. Representation is important, and it is so positive and powerful to know young girls will see these women and know they too can be business owners. It might not resonate with them now, and it might even be a subconscious thing, but it makes all the difference. These women have come a long way in making what they love a career, but I can tell this is still only the beginning.

The Beauty Bar is located at 1722 W. Bradley Avenue in Champaign.

High school photo provided by Ashley Rochella. All others by Anisa McClinton.