By Caleb Yarbrough
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist
It’s hard to cut and style hair while social distancing, so no one understands the toll COVID-19 has taken on small businesses more than Johnny Grimes and his wife, Courtney, owners of Wheelhouse Salon, with three Alabama locations in Birmingham, Homewood and Huntsville and a fourth in Austin, Texas. All four locations closed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
While Johnny Grimes is hopeful his salons will be able to reopen soon, he is keenly aware of the daily struggles of the 60 employees who rely on Wheelhouse for their livelihoods. Three Wheelhouse locations have received federal aid to help with payroll, but Grimes said support from their patrons has been “amazing.”
In response to the closing of its brick and mortar locations, Wheelhouse Salon began selling gift cards for future services at a 10% discount via its website salonlofts.com. The salon also launched a Shopify store where patrons can support the business by purchasing various hair products online. In the Birmingham metro area, online orders can be picked up from Wheelhouse, or the salon offers free next-day delivery.
“Those are the two main ways that our community has been able to support us, and we’ve been overwhelmed with the community’s outpouring of love and support for us,” Grimes said.
The “single most important” focus right now, he said, is bringing in enough money to pay for the health insurance of Wheelhouse’s staff.
“We’ve been closed [during the COVID-19 safe-at-home restriction period]. So essentially we’re having to pay 100% for two solid months. … Everything that we’re doing from selling products to selling gift cards, for the most part, is going to paying their health insurance so that it doesn’t get canceled,” Grimes said.
‘Survive and thrive’
David Parks, director of the Global Center at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School, was the Grimes’ youth minister when he served at Crossroads Baptist Church, Hueytown, in the 1990s.
Parks remains a close friend of the couple and in a March 25 blog post, he shared why he was “passionate about seeing Wheelhouse both survive and thrive.”
“Anyone who teaches missions today, as I do, understands how important it is for us to have business owners who not only see the work itself as a gift from God but desire to use the profits (or use the business to raise funds) to bless the nations for the sake of the gospel,” Parks wrote.
In addition to Parks’ connection to the Grimes family, he shared his connection to P.J. Santiago, a stylist at Wheelhouse’s Birmingham location and graduate of Beeson Divinity School.
“In 2012, I began working at Beeson part-time,” Parks said. “My focus was raising support to return to Malaysia. P.J. was in my first mentor group that year. … When he found out that I was raising support to return to the missions field, and that we were kind of struggling to get back to Asia, he began supporting us financially.
“Here’s the thing. He was poor. How do I know? I did say he was a seminary student, right? I actually didn’t even ask him to support us. He just did it. Out of his poverty, he gave,” said Parks. “I didn’t forget.”
Citing Wheelhouse’s support of orphan and widow care organizations like Altar84 and HelpOneNow, Parks said he wants to see the business survive because of his love for missions.
‘Force to be reckoned with’
“It’s great when individuals give to the cause of missions, but a business that continually generates money to be used for the cause of Christ is a force to be reckoned with,” Parks wrote.
“My wife and I are believers and at the heart of what we want to do is to serve people,” Grimes said. “We know that the single greatest impact that we can have in the world is the 60 people that we are around and that work for us on a daily basis. So, we are committed to taking care of their needs no matter who they are, what they believe (or) what they look like.”
When it comes to meeting the spiritual needs of Wheelhouse’s staff, the Grimes have committed to gently chipping away at spiritual barriers that may be keeping individuals from coming to know Christ instead of trying to bulldoze them.
“That approach takes a little bit of time. But I’ve also found that approach is much more effective,” Grimes said. “We’re not kicking doors open. We’re just going to love and serve. And we believe God will faithfully open doors.” He believes when Christians actively love their neighbors, especially in trying times, God uses that to “soften hearts.”
“We want to share the love and support that we get through Christ. We want to be that vessel to our people,” said Grimes.