On the reception desk of Equalla Calloway’s salon, Knot Our Hair, a paper calendar is still flipped to March 2020.
But Calloway said she’s not planning on changing the page anytime soon.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic completely shut down many small businesses for months. Deemed non-essential, hair salons were hit hard.
“March was when the world stood still,” Calloway said. “And I’m still here. That’s what it does for me, it makes me feel like I’m still here.”
Known to her clients by the affectionate nickname “Q,” Calloway said people tell her to change her calendar, but she refuses. The frozen page is a testament, she says, to the salon staying alive.
Calloway has owned the storefront at 503 E. 4th St. since 2019. Her first-born daughter, Jada, is now following in her footsteps, studying to become an aesthetician herself.
Jada Calloway said her mother’s perseverance inspires her to pursue her schooling.
“I see her as this higher power,” she said. “She does a lot for us, and even now that she’s where she’s at, it’s like she’s not stopping.”
Equalla Calloway said there is a shortage of African-American salons in the area.
When she sat down to brainstorm names for her salon, she wanted to pay homage to her dream of creating a salon that specializes in African-American hair.
“How can I get people to know that? Knots, kinks. That’s how we came up with Knot Our Hair,” she said.
Whether it be locs, braids, bobs, coloring or cuts, Calloway said her main priorities are hair and scalp care to strengthen and protect the natural hair of her clients.
Despite the salon’s current success, it took many years and even court battles for Calloway to get the storefront of her childhood dreams.
Prior to starting her own business, Calloway worked at a salon in the Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley.
When she saw an advertisement for the storefront on Fourth Street, she began to negotiate with the owner, came to an agreement to lease the space, and started to work as an employee and pay partial rent for the salon.
“Weird things started happening,” she said. “I tried to brush them off because I wanted (the space) so bad that I didn’t want to believe the obvious. One day, August 5, 2019, in the middle of Musikfest, I came to the salon door, and the locks were changed.”
Calloway said a week later, she hired a lawyer and filed a small claims civil lawsuit, citing wrongful eviction.
The owner then asked her to retrieve the belongings that she still had in the salon.
“I came and something in my gut said, ‘Leave out of here with your stuff, and you’re never going to see them again.’ I called my husband and said, ‘When they open the door, I’m not leaving,’” she said. “I slept here for a whole week.”
Calloway said she slept in the store until she was able to get possession of the keys from the landlord of the property.
After more than a year in court, she won her case and was awarded full rights to the storefront after the wrongful eviction.
“I had never come face-to-face with evil like this,” Calloway said. “You hear stories, but unless it happens to you, it’s different. It’s crazy.”
In the midst of that court judgment, the previous owner took everything out of the salon.
The only remnant was the floors.
She said she had to take matters into her own hands to get the salon in shape.
“I came in and it was empty. And I just cried like a baby,” she said. “And I wiped the tears. The same day, I went down to Ace Hardware and I taped up the windows and I just started painting everything myself, literally everything.”
Calloway said she had to become her own electrician, carpenter and painter to build her dream salon.
“I had to make ends meet by any means necessary,” she said. “When I wanted things, I had to go Uber and Instacart. These chandeliers, anything that you might find. I worked for it until I was able to open the doors a year later.”
She said the adversity she had to overcome was worth every moment.
She says she doesn’t regret going through the entire process, because she believed she had to go through all of that to have the salon of her dreams.
Calloway said she tells this story to clients when she feels like they need their own inspiration.
“The reason why I’m in the beauty industry, and I know I am, is to impact, is to inspire, is to make people feel good,” she said. “Because sometimes you could be having a bad day, but if your hair looks good, that bad day can go on as the best day.”
She said her job requires selflessness.
One of Calloway’s clients, Carla Weathers, said she went to look for a local salon and found Calloway’s online reviews to be positive, so she booked her first appointment. She has been a client ever since.
“Q goes out of her way to make sure she’s focused on hair care,” Weathers said. “But also it’s the effort that she makes to ensure that the scalp is well cared for, that the hair is cared for, that it’s not over processed or overstyled. She’s exceptional.”
She said Calloway has been a lifesaver.
Weathers said it is unusual to find a stylist with such incredible styling and interpersonal skills. She said she has a unique way of developing relationships with a wide range of clients.
“Q has all of these skills wrapped into one person,” she said. “She’s really extraordinary.”
Calloway said just conversing with people and being an ear for them is impactful. When a client gets in her chair, she says, it is all about putting her thoughts to the side and giving her client her undivided attention.
Jada Calloway said she shares the same sentiments as her mother.
“Watching my friends, who I’ve grown up with, and seeing them leave that chair, even if it’s just for that day or for that short period of time, feeling great, that’s enough for me,” Jada Calloway said.
As she currently studies in cosmetology school for the state board test, Jada Calloway said her mother will often be a crutch for her when she’s practicing on her friends and clients in the salon.
Because the two have their own specialties, Jada Calloway said it allows them to work together as a team. She said that for one client, her mom styled her hair and she did her makeup.
“I like when we do things like that, where we’re together on it,” Jada Calloway said. “I feel like as I got older, I got closer with my mother, so it’s another thing that we get to share.
Jada Calloway said she remembers feeling that her mother had finally fulfilled her dream when she witnessed her open the doors to Knot Our Hair.
“One day my dad posted on Instagram when he came to visit her at night,” she said. “He just took a video of her in the window working on a client. And I realized, ‘Wow, she got what she wanted.’”
Equalla Calloway said four and a half years later, she is still in awe of the fact that she is where she is today.
She treats her work as a privilege, she said, honoring each unique relationship that forms when someone enters Knot Our Hair.
“I say to people all of the time, the people that come here are supposed to be here,” Equalla Calloway said. “Like a spiritual type thing, there’s something we’re going to gain from each other. We didn’t come across each others’ paths for no reason.”