Shelf Life Community Story Project
Amplifying community voices, learning from neighborhood stories, and interrupting narratives of erasure in Seattle's Central District.

Starting and Owning A Business

Photo by Jill Freidberg

Photo by Jill Freidberg

DeCharlene moved from Texas to Seattle, as a teenager. She has owned and operated DeCharlene's Beauty Shop and Boutique for over 40 years. She founded the Central Area Chamber of Commerce. 

DeCharlene Williams

I took a test out at Boeing and I made it. I went in there one time for employment. I looked at the fellows there. They was all looking at me grinning and everything. I said I’ve got to get out of here. This is going to be a game thing going on here. Because I was a black women and they was all white men. You could tell what they wanted to do. They think they was going to feel and touch me. I wouldn’t allow that. I left there and I quit that job. 

I went over here to Everette’s Beauty School. I was about 17 ½ when I finished.  I took the state board and passed it on my first time. So, I worked for a lady named Alberta Woodart.  She was at 1421 31st Avenue South, right up in the Mt. Baker district. They liked to play the horse races and all of that. Bookies that come in there and they be taking out bets to the race. So I moved from her shop and went to Virg’s Beauty Salon, which was down the hill on 28th and Madison.  I worked there. Got in there, and it was the worst shop I had ever been in in my life.  She was a gambler. She chased young men.  The landlord booted her out because she wouldn’t pay her rent.  I went up the hill with her to the shop where I’m at now. She didn’t pay the bills. She gambled all the money away! The public utilities came in and it cut off our lights while I was doing a lady with a permanent.  I had to go next door and rinse the perm out of the lady’s hair.  I said, "I got to get around and find me something." Then, they said, "Well this place is for sale. "  So I told her, I said, "Well Virgie, they got your building up for sale." I said, "Are you interested in buying it?" She said, "No, I’m not interested in buying it."  She said, "If you want it you buy it, why don’t you buy it?" I says, "Okay, I think I’ll do just that."  She said, "You a woman, and they don’t sell to women."  

I went to 30 banks and none of them would sell it to me. I went down to Metropolitan Federal Saving and Loan downtown.  I put it in a notebook, how much I was going to pay them, how much they will get. I wanted a 30-year loan, and I wanted a contract loan. I took it in there, and the lady says, "Well, all this looks fine and good." She said, "but there’s only one thing." She said, "You’re a woman, and they ain’t going to okay no loan for no woman, because they don’t let women buy commercial property. Only men." I said, "Fine, just take this and put my check on here; it’s 6500 dollars. Take that back there to your manager, and give it to him and see what he has to say about it." So, she took it and went back there.  She came out and she said, "Oh, he went for it! He said he went for it!"

The day I moved in was April 4th. They had just killed Martin Luther King. I moved in, that was on April the 4th, 1968, when they killed him. I overcame that and moved in there.  And I been in it ever since. I remodeled it and I did everything I said. I been there for 48 years.