Born and raised in Chicago’s West Side, Monica Abernathy first became interested in nail art while attending a local magnet school focused on visual and performance arts. She contemplated attended cosmetology school, but ultimately pursued a bachelor’s degree in psychology at University of Illinois Urbana Champaign. “My parents were focused on me going off to college,” she explained. Nails remained a side passion, with Monica doing nails for friends and family members. She went on to work various corporate jobs and eventually settled into the South Side of Chicago with her husband and two girls.
Filling a Need
Over the years, Monica grew frustrated with the lack of quality nail salon experiences in her neighborhood. “To have a really nice salon experience you’d have to go downtown or to the suburbs which of course aren’t as convenient as being able to go in your own neighborhood. You have to factor in additional time and parking hassles and things like that,“ she explained. “By the time you do all that you aren’t really relaxed.” Knowing that Monica had a passion for nails and was feeling unfulfilled in her job at the time, Monica’s husband encouraged her to pursue her dream of opening her own salon. She started going to cosmetology school at night and looking for a space.
Building a Network
Having a strong community helped Monica get started. After putting most of her savings into buying a space, Monica needed a loan to buy furniture and equipment. Since she didn’t qualify with traditional banks, an advisor at her local small business development center referred her to Accion. Monica then hired talent and started marketing her business and building clientele. Since launching, Monica has completed a 12-week business accelerator program hosted by Accion, focused on small businesses with high growth potential. As a current participant in Accion’s neighborhood entrepreneurship lab, Monica receives advice and coaching from experienced entrepreneurs.
Monica’s salon, A Polished Work, currently employs five nail technicians and has grown to be a premier destination for quality salon experiences in Chicago. The business attracts a solid base of recurring clientele from across the city, including workers who commute from Indiana. “The most meaningful part is the fact that our clients look forward to their visits in the salon,” Monica said. “They are able to speak about what is going on in their lives, and we really try to motivate, inspire, and assist in all of that through the customer relationships that we build.”
From organizing holiday gift drives to providing local job training opportunities, to donating free nail services to underserved high school students, Monica is proud of the sense of community she has created through the salon. She now serves on Accion Chicago’s Client Advisory board to help support a business like hers.
While Monica looks to open a second location, she hopes that her business success will inspire her friends and family members to pursue their own dreams and bring positive change to their neighborhoods.