Posted September 23rd 2010 at 2:28 pm by
in Boston, Who's on Newbury Street?

Who’s on Newbury Street? Nila the Threader

At twelve years old, Nila told her mother: “I don’t want to study. I want to go into business.” Her mother said that women couldn’t go into business in their region of India, and implored Nila to go back to school and wait until she was older.

Nila finished school and then pressed for business again. Her mother asked her to try getting a job instead. She got a job. She earned 150 Rupees, then the equivalent of two or three dollars, for one month of work. After she paid for her bus pass, she had even less. Nila resolved to begin her life as a businesswoman. Her father owned a mango business, and she had his drive for entrepreneurship

Nila trained to be a beautician in Bombay, but she opened her first shop in her hometown. The local girls, eager for well-groomed eyebrows and all the latest beauty techniques, had been rebuffed in the city salons.

“Nila,” they’d say to her in her shop’s early days, “Can you take out my eyes?” Instead of making fun, Nila took time to teach them the word ‘eyebrow’ in English, and then explained everything she was doing while she was doing it. She said the girls would tell her, “In the city salons they laugh at us, and that’s why we don’t go there.”

With kindness and openness, Nila built a huge clientele in India. She had two salons there by the time she moved to America.

Now, twelve years later, she can she can say the same in the Unites States. She has one shop in Harvard Square and another on Newbury Street in Boston.  She started by cleaning houses in Boston suburbs and then offering in-home beauty services. She went to college dorms when she knew a family with a daughter in college and offered eyebrow threading there. It took her three years to earn her beauty license in the U.S.  By the time she got it, her customer base was already sizable.

Her first shop in Harvard square was a tremendous success. She opened a second shop on Newbury Street, but the results haven’t been as good on Newbury. Her shop at 350 Newbury is hard to find. I walked by it and had to turn around and look again when I met her there. The landlord doesn’t offer a sandwich sign announcing her shop or its services. She can’t advertise sales or specials on the street. There is no sign on the entrance door, either.  Additionally, she can’t offer a full range of beauty services at her Newbury Street location because of the way the space is configured. She would need to add a partition, but the landlord is not amenable to that.

At her Harvard location, Nila said, “The landlord is so good. She says, ‘Whatever you want to do: partition, whatever. Make the money, give the money.’  That’s it. That relationship with a landlord is good, because I make money and she also makes money.”

Despite her hard-to-find shop on Newbury, Nila has a lot of customers there.  They hear about her via word-of-mouth and then they keep coming back.  “You can walk down Newbury Street, and nobody sees us. But still, so many people know us. This is the wonder story.”

Nonetheless, Nila will probably close her Newbury location at the end of her lease in favor of better space for beauty service.

Post by Alexa Mills.

5 responses to “Who’s on Newbury Street? Nila the Threader”

  1. Stefanie says:

    Aw, this is great! The photos in this essay are gorgeous. I love her story about flipping through the phone book to practice English.

  2. Amy Stitely says:

    Alexa, at first… when you told me you were going to do a series on Newbury Street, I have to admit my skepticism. I thought… You want to tell the story of French Connection? Patagonia? Other places that middle-class people cannot afford to shop? How odd.

    But, this Nila video and story has shattered my doubts. I guess I’ve never looked that closely at Newbury. I wonder about the economics of “upstairs” versus “downstairs” businesses and their location on the street. Also the turnover. The rents are probably so steep.

    I loved watching the video… Also listening to the thread and to Nila’s voice. I was threaded once by a teenager in her mother’s South Seattle apartment. The sound on your video brought back memories of ladies whom I’ve long lost contact.

  3. Aditi Mehta says:

    Alexa, Nila’s story about the library of course warmed my heart. As you know, I have known Nila for years and she never shared that anecdote! The Waltham Public Library would be proud to know that their services helped Nila to build a household and a life for herself and her children.

  4. Alexa Mills says:

    Oh good question about upstairs and downstairs rents. I will look into that. There is definitely a more expensive and less expensive end of the street, lengthwise.

    You all should get your eyebrows threaded with Nila!

  5. Amy Stitely says:

    right, also the socio-economics of upstairs versus downstairs shops…