Locally Richmond is an occasional series of profiles that highlights the small businesses that contribute to making Richmond a unique community.
When Dolores Madrigal walked into Lilly’s Beauty Salon and Supplies on a warm Tuesday afternoon, a stylist was available and ready to help her, but she asked for Eloisa Martinez.
“She has cut my hair for 28 years since she worked in San Pablo,” Madrigal said in Spanish. “I want her.”
Martinez, 65, is the owner of Lilly’s Beauty Salon, located on 23rd Street near Lincoln Avenue. The salon, which turns 24 this month, was the first in Richmond to offer services by Spanish-speaking stylists.
“She’s going to take me out of my grave the day I die so I can cut her hair,” Martinez said of Madrigal. Both ladies laughed.
Martinez’s history with hair begins in 1969 when she found herself with no money to cross the border into the Unites States from Mexico. She started working in a hair salon in Tijuana after graduating high school.
Martinez quickly learned to cut and style hair from her sister’s friend. But soon thereafter, she married and had two children. She moved with her husband and children to Richmond in 1975, dedicating the next 20 years to being a housemother and later working only part-time in a San Pablo hair salon.
“I loved working, but my husband was always staying home with the kids,” Martinez said. “He said, ‘If you’re working so much, why don’t you start your own business?’”
It was not until her youngest son finished high school that she spotted a tiny abandoned storefront on an almost empty 23rd Street. She made the building home to her salon, which she named after one of her daughters.
“I became indebted using all of my credit cards (to open the salon),” Martinez said. “But with that enthusiasm and joy, the obstacles are minimal.”
That was 24 years ago. Today, her salon is one of many in Richmond that employs Spanish speakers. The same street that was once abandoned now thrives with Latino businesses and an annual Cinco de Mayo festival that this year drew a crowd of more than 35,000 participants.
But it was not easy for the restaurant – or even the street – to arrive to the present.
“Nothing is difficult, but nothing is easy either,” Martinez said. “God is always with us. To this day, He has helped us.”