Charles and Gladys Woods have been beloved pillars of the business community -- and Camden -- for many years.
In fact, Woods Beauty Salon at 609 Rutledge St., is one of the oldest businesses -- and probably the oldest African-American owned business -- in Camden.
Gladys Woods started working at La Petite in the late 1950s, above Kennedy’s Barber Shop, then at the corner of Rutledge and Broad streets.
“I went out on my own in 1960 and moved down here and have been here ever since,” she said. “I must be doing something right.”
“It’s been a joy,” she said. “I’ve had some of the best customers in the world -- that’s why I’m still here.”
Her husband, Charles, who owned and operated an insurance agency for many years before retiring some 20 years ago, also helps out around the shop, escorting some of the elderly ladies to their cars after their appointments with Gladys.
And that’s an important part of what has made the Woods successful, they said. Success lies in maintaining one’s core values, not in racial lines or the simple desire to make money, they said.
“Starting a business is tough,” Gladys said. “People are looking for a service. As long as you do that with integrity, you will be fine. Professionalism is the key.”
Much of it comes down to the golden rule, they said.
“Treat everyone the way you want to be treated yourself,” Gladys said. “Everybody is important -- that’s the way you have to look at it.”
“It doesn’t matter what the business is -- you do a good job, you do what you say you’re going to do, your word is your bond,” Charles said. “It’s those values, not money, that’s important.”
Both note the changes they have seen in Camden over the years. Indeed, they remember when Rutledge Street, indeed virtually all of South Broad Street below Rutledge, was owned and operated by African-Americans.
“This street was all black,” she said. “Times change, though, and many of them have sold their businesses and buildings. The younger generations just don’t seem to care that much about it.”
Nonetheless, the changes have not been necessarily bad -- people who have bought these buildings have refurbished them and helped make the downtown area look better, they said. Whether they are black or white really makes no difference, they said.
As to her business, one nice thing about the salon is that it’s a quiet, relaxing place -- customers enjoy coming in and catching up with friends. Some often fall asleep as they are sitting under a dryer, Gladys said.
That’s not to say that one can ever rest on one’s laurels. In fact, in many ways the only difference between working for yourself or for someone else is that you won’t get fired working for yourself, quipped Charles. But what that does mean is that it’s up to you to stay on top of trends and changes, he said.
“You are never too old to learn, and if you want to stay in business, you better be willing to learn new things all the time,” Charles said. “Business changes all the time and you need to be on top of it.”
“I am a person who likes to learn, and I try to keep up with the changes, Gladys said. “Things have changed a lot over the years.”
Gladys also sees the salon as something of a ministry, she said.
“I think that’s one thing that keeps me here -- I’m a people person and you have to care about people,” she said. “There are a lot of hurting people out there, and a lot of times all they want is for someone to listen to them. I think that God has put me here for that purpose.”
They also note that this world needs a lot less division and vitriol and lot more encouragement and love.
“We’re not going to have peace until everyone comes together,” Gladys said.