Staying put in South L.A.

Bernadette Moore washes the hair of a client at her salon in South Los Angeles, The Total Woman. She started doing hair in South LA in 1989 and has operated out of a bungalow on Vernon Street since 2008. 

Explore a map of the racial demographic shifts in South L.A.

David Brancaccio: It's 20 years ago on Sunday that riots erupted in South Los Angeles over the Rodney King verdict, and by the time the smoke had cleared, the cost in property damage and stuff looted from shops was as high as a billion dollars. This in sprawling low-income black and Hispanic neighborhoods that could ill afford it.

For the Wealth and Poverty desk, Mitchell Hartman introduces us to one woman who decided to deepen her economic roots in the neighborhood after the unrest.


Mitchell Hartman: South L.A. has seen some rebuilding, but little economic recovery since the riots. Unemployment is still high, incomes are low, foreclosures have soared. And, there’s been black flight -- 80,000 African-Americans have moved out, many to suburbs where jobs, housing, and schools are better.

Some in the middle class hang on. Bernadette Moore is 57. She’s had the Total Woman hair salon here on noisy -- and kind of run-down -- Vernon Avenue, since 1989. 

Bernadette Moore: Hi. Well this is my humble abode, let me show you around. It’s just a little neighborhood shop.

Which attracts neighborhood women, and also some who’ve left and come back to have Moore do their hair.

Moore: I don’t do a lot of weaves. I just like to do like a lot of professional looks and keep the hair healthy.

The salon is in a little pink bungalow behind one of several rental properties that Moore’s family has owned for decades.

Moore: It’s in our community, I’m able to watch out and collect the rents, and it’s just more convenient to be here.

Hartman: A lot of African-American families when they’re successful, move out. You didn’t.

Moore: Right. I have a sister and she’s professional, she hasn’t moved out either. My niece has moved out, she’s in New York. I just believe in our community. I don’t believe that just because you see a problem you should run from it.

Hartman: And what is your memory of that moment -- ‘92 -- when the riots were happening? Was this business affected directly?

Moore: No, actually, it really wasn’t. You know, I lived through not only that riot but the Watts riot. It was hard to see the neighborhood -- you know, just what was going on. But we had to keep it moving. We just had to keep it moving.

Moore is keeping her business moving; she just opened a counseling and life-coaching office nearby.

I’m Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

Brancaccio: We've created a map where you can move a slider to see the ethnic changes of Los Angeles neighborhoods over time.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

Explore a map of the racial demographic shifts in South L.A.

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