STEUBENVILLE - Helen Montgomery defies the odds: A minority, a woman and a downtown business owner, she's not only survived the rookie business jinx but managed to hold her own for 13 years in a local economy that can't always be described as robust.
"A lot of businesses don't stay open this long," she concedes. "I thank God all the time that I have. My parents always taught us to work hard, get an education, follow our dream, be honest and no matter what else we do, always put God first and we'll make it. God gave me this business, that's why I'm here."
Montgomery, owner of Maebelle's Wigs & Beauty Supply and Charlie's Wear in the Berkman plaza on Seventh Street, said it's what she always wanted to do.
A DOWNTOWN FIXTURE — Helen Montgomery shows off the new Vivica Fox Collection at her shop, Maebelle’s Wigs & Beauty Supply and Charlie’s Wear in the Berkman plaza on Seventh Street in Steubenville. Montgomery, a fixture in the downtown business community for more than 13 years, said it’s what she’s always wanted to do. -- Linda Harris
"As a child growing up, I used to do hair," she said. "I was like 9 years old when I started. I told everybody when I grew up, I wanted to go to Hollywood and do hair. I had big dreams, didn't I?"
Childhood dream or not, Montgomery never wavered in her career ambitions. Styling hair and helping women look their best, "that's something I've done all my life, something I enjoy doing."
"I just always have it in my mind, just keep going until I can't do it any more," she said.
The shop carries a full line of wigs, including the new Vivica Fox Collection, as well as formal wear for men and women, shoes, hair and jewelry accessories, hats, sportswear and purses.
"I have a little bit of everything," Montgomery said. "It's like a one-stop shop center."
The daughter of Charles and Maebelle Montgomery of Steubenville, she said the shop officially opened in 1999, though she'd begun preparations a year earlier.
"I actually had the store a year before it opened," she said. "I was working on starting the store ... paying utilities and paying rent with no money coming in."
For the first six years she rented space in the vicinity of Fourth Street, but the locations didn't work out.
That's when she turned to the Berkmans, who her father had gotten to know through his hauling business.
Though she's now a few blocks from the central business district, it's been a good move: there's ample parking for Maebelle's and the other businesses located in the plaza, which the Berkman's have spent more than a million dollars during the past nine months to upgrade.
"I didn't want to have to move, but the other places were so bad - sewage backed up in one, there was no heat in another," she said. "So I came up and asked Mr. Berkman if I could move here and he said 'sure.'"
Montgomery said she's happy in the plaza and happy to be part of the downtown business community.
"I was raised here, I grew up here, people know me and I don't fear being here," she said. "And I believe in my neighborhood, I really do. I believe in my neighbors, and I've always loved helping people, that's why I donate wigs to the Teramana Cancer Center (at Trinity Medical Center West). I like to give back to the community because people have been so very nice to me."
Montgomery figures she donates about 75 wigs a year to those in need, most of them through the cancer center, as a way "to give back to the community."
And she credits her parents with instilling a drive to succeed in her.
"There are some things you can't help - the way the economy is now, for instance," she said. "I have this thing in me, this go-getter thing. I don't want to be a failure."