Photo by co-founder Neidy Gutierrez.

Be a local business that supports other local businesses–that’s one of Paloma Salon’s ongoing goals. 

Co-owners Gisella Amaya and Ken Hughes opened Paloma Salon in Jersey City’s Historic Downtown area in 2020. They expressed to Slice of Culture how they felt the area needed a new kind of salon, but there was an even bigger need for community and providing quality service to all types of people. 

“When we opened Paloma, that was one of our focuses, ‘Ok, how can we do stuff differently for ourselves and our staff, and what can we provide for the community?’” Hughes said. 

Amaya and Hughes are both born and raised on the east coast. Amaya is originally from Connecticut while Hughes is a lifelong New Jersey native. The two moved from Brooklyn, New York to Jersey City not knowing much about the area.

After going to local events, eating at local restaurants and shopping at local businesses, the two said they fell in love with what they found–a “down to earth” city, Amaya described.

(Adrienne J. Romero / SOC Images)

Amaya, whose parents immigrated from El Salvador, said they chose the name “Paloma” because she wanted to pay tribute to her culture, but still have it be an easy word to reference. “Paloma” means “dove” or “peace” in Spanish, and it’s also a tequila-based cocktail.

“I definitely wanted something that represented a little bit of my Latin culture, but I [also] wanted a word that everybody knew or was familiar with and not just some obscure word,” she laughed. 

Paloma sits right off of Brunswick and 3rd Street. The residential street tucks away the hair salon, but that doesn’t seem to steer away customers. On a Wednesday at 11 a.m., customers were already walking in, ready to sit in the styling chairs. 

Walking inside, customers are greeted with natural sunlight from the window and a neutral-toned environment that gets a color pop from its green plants, colorful hair products and special “palomas & palo santo & path trains” merch. 

Amaya said that Paloma represents laidback luxury hair, which means everyone can get good quality service. 

Hughes added that, to them, you can’t empower the community without empowering your staff. The Jersey City salon has six staff members, including Amaya, who’s a hair stylist, and Hughes, who’s a barber. Every member is paid on an hourly basis, eliminating “tipping culture,” which studies have shown is problematic because it’s heavily rooted in underpaying workers, among other issues.

“We celebrate all types of people [and] we love that Jersey City is such a diverse area, which is why we chose to build our roots here,” Amaya added.

Jersey City is the second-most culturally diverse city in the U.S., according to a study by WalletHub. But finding a stylist who knows how to take care of textured hair isn’t always easy to come by, especially in Hudson County. 

(Neidy Gutierrez / SOC Images)

In 2023, New Jersey attempted to resolve the issue with a law they passed, which requires all cosmetology schools to teach students equally in styling Black and other forms of textured hair. Amaya and Hughes agreed that it was a much needed push because stylists should be “good at all types of hair” and being able to welcome all types of people is just as important.

“A lot of times [people usually think], ‘I’ll only go to the Dominican salon because they know my hair type’ or ‘I’ll only go to this salon because they’re good with straight hair,’ when in reality, anyone should be able to be serviced anywhere,” Hughes added. 

“And it’s always important that if you don’t know something, just be honest about it… We’re all here to learn.”

Paloma has been building their “family” over the last few years, but they’ve also built a relationship with the community. The salon tries to do three community events a year, which has included a vintage sale, a plant care class and pay-what-you-can haircuts where all donations get sent to a charity of a staff member’s choice. They’re aiming to host another event sometime in the near future.

As for the salon’s future, Amaya and Hughes said they’re not trying to become a “massive” corporation, valuing quality over quantity. Instead, they view their future as their “staff’s future and our neighborhood’s future.”

“A lot of big corporations are stepping in and I see a lot of small businesses kind of being pushed out… For us, we try and make relationships with other small businesses, talk about local politics, talk about ‘hey, we should put our efforts here because we can make a difference,’” Hughes said.

“Shop local, shop small and let’s all support each other.”

Paloma is open Tuesday to Friday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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