For 36 years, Tess Porter has owned and managed Tess’ Style Shop at the intersection of Garfield Boulevard and South Ashland Avenue. She’s seen iconic, name-brand businesses — signs with golden arches and burger crowns — come and go. She’s seen children walk by, stop in, grow up and have their own children do the same. She’s hired locally, given generously and waved at thousands of passers-by as she reinvested, time and again, into her business. Everyone knows that Tess’ Style Shop is the place to go in Englewood for beauty and grooming services and supplies, for women and men, behind big, plate-glass windows.
Everyone including looters, who in the heat of the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, broke Tess’ beautiful big windows, entered her store and ravaged it terribly. “It was heartbreaking. I cried,” said Tess. “It was hard because I’ve been here a long time. I felt like they not only should have known who I am, but that they should’ve had a little bit more respect for the fact that I’ve been here for a very long time and I am the type of person who helps with the neighborhood. I help with anything they need.”
Tess says that 90% of her products were stolen, and display cases, windows, doors and chairs were damaged. She felt as though the community had betrayed her, and she felt abandoned by systems meant to support people in need. “I had lost faith in the system. All these years I worked, I didn’t get unemployment, I was denied. I didn’t get the stimulus check. I wasn’t getting any assistance, no benefits, no grants, no loans, I didn’t get any of that.”
I was asking for help and it didn’t come through. I feel like, with the help that I received, and I’m so grateful for it, that if, someone know you, they say, hey, I know this person, but if you just reach out to the system, there’s not a lot of strength behind that. I feel like it has to be someone who knows you.Tess Porter
Her husband Jeffrey is a firefighter; her adult children are working professionals. They kept her encouraged, imploring her to not “go out like this” and to restore her business. Her children offered a little money each week to help fund business recovery. Then a long-time stylist at the shop and neighbors helped her clean up. Next, a client told her about the availability of funds from the GE Chamber Foundation, whose executive director Felicia Slaton-Young “came and said I’m going to help you out. And she did,” said Tess.
The funding Tess received was used to replace inventory and broken furnishings, doors and windows. Highly compliant with public health guidelines, Tess also created a patio in the rear of her shop, so that customers can be comfortable and socially distanced while waiting for services. Her business re-opened and her faith was restored.
“I was asking for help and it didn’t come through,” she said, until she made the connection with Slaton-Young, and tapped into the strength of the Chamber. “With the help that I received… I’m so grateful for it. If you just reach out to the system, there’s not a lot of strength behind that. I feel like it has to be someone who knows you.”
After three decades at Ashland and 55th Street, everybody knows Tess. But Tess doesn’t know everyone who supported her — specifically, the donors who made it possible for the GE Chamber to support her. To the donors, she says, “Thank you so much for even taking this time to say we’re going to invest in these small business, because if ever we needed help, we need help now.”