A few months ago, a young boy ran into the boutique where Alan Cashaw was working, and needed help. The child was being bullied by a group of boys his age – around 8 or 9 years old. In fleeing his tormenters, the child had left his bicycle behind. He needed the bike back. And he needed to get home. Alan went with the boy to retrieve the bike – and gave the other children a stern talking-to. Alan says that’s why this store is here. “Someone needs to talk to those kids while they’re young. In 3 or 4 years it’ll all be different. They won’t listen.”
Alan is one of seven partners in the nonprofit Private Stock Hair and Jewelry Boutique, in Johnstown’s Prospect neighborhood. What started a few years ago as a co-op, funded by the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, has evolved into something new: a store serving the area’s African American community, with speciality products like hair pieces and wigs, skincare products, accessories, and greeting cards. The store’s true purpose goes beyond that. According to Alan, “To keep businesses in Prospect is integral to keeping Prospect from becoming a ghost town.”
The boutique provides invaluable resources to this underserved community. A computer is tied to Career Link so job seekers can see what’s available. Alan helps them navigate the application and interview process, even holding job interviews in the store. The store houses a post office and laundromat. It’s also a way station for people making the long uphill climb along William Penn Avenue to the nearby public housing, providing much-needed rest and something to drink.
Patricia Holifield is also a partner in the boutique, and runs the store three days a week. Like Alan, and most of the partners, Patricia was born and raised in Prospect. She remembers when the neighborhood was thriving with shops and services: “We used to have stores up and down this street. We had medical centers, open churches, convenience stores. Now we have nothing. Not even a mailbox.” What’s disappearing, along with that commerce, is the sense of safety and community it gave residents. Private Stock Boutique is an attempt at preserving whatever’s left of that. Maybe, even, regaining some of what’s been lost.
There are big plans for the boutique, all of them aimed at community building. Mangers want to bring a farmers’ market into the parking lot. They’re looking for events and partnerships that will engage neighbors in getting to know one another. They’re also looking beyond Prospect, hoping to bridge greater Johnstown’s ethnic boundaries. Alan says the boutique is, really, for anyone who wants what they have to offer. “I wish we’d just be known as the hair store. The blond works for any race. The brunette works for any race. Our hair is for anyone who wants to buy it, no matter their race or gender or gender identity – we’re here to serve, not judge.”
They’re here to provide a safe haven with a side of hope for anyone who needs it.
Private Stock Hair and Jewlery Boutique is open Wednesday through Saturday, from noon to 5pm. If you’re interested in working with the Boutique, as a vendor or as a partner in community development, you’re encouraged to reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org.