In the 1970s and ‘80s when it wasn’t all too common for women to open and run their own businesses, Thompson took dreams of opening a beauty shop in downtown Cumming and followed them with confidence and optimism, no matter the roadblocks laid before her, according to friends and family.
For decades, Thompson owned the Forsyth County beauty salon, The Barbara Shoppe, and The Little Village, a small four-unit shopping center that stood on Dahlonega Highway until the business was destroyed by fire in the early morning hours of Jan. 3.
“She started that shop in the ‘70s and she was truly an entrepreneur when women didn’t do things like that,” said Thompson’s niece, Jill Tate, who worked at The Barbara Shoppe as a girl and eventually took over after Thompson’s retirement.
“I started when I was 15, my mom worked there for 30 years. There’s a big history with that shop,” Tate added.
“I had a dream. I was working at the Georgia Nuclear Flight Laboratory in Dawsonville as a secretary and I always wanted to be a hairdresser,” Thompson said. “I wanted to go to beauty school so bad, so I found a school in Gainesville and it took me two years going to school at night, two nights a week.”
Thompson, who retired in 2009 after three knee replacements brought on from 40 years of standing and cutting hair, still remembers how her customers would walk to her house, which wasn’t paved, from the main road to get their hair done on days when the weather and roads were bad.
“I was really the only beauty shop for a while,” she said. “And I had to work, ice or snow.”
In the 1970s, Thompson began thinking about establishing a real storefront beauty shop in the county. Eventually, she formed a plan to build the shop on a piece of property in downtown Cumming where her husband’s family had once had a home, and with a little convincing, her husband agreed to the plan.
With the help of a local builder that Thompson was friends with, plans were drawn up for the building and after securing a loan from the Forsyth County Bank, the shop was built on Dahlonega Highway in Cumming.
Very quickly the plan became a success, Thompson said. Friends and acquaintances signed on to lease units in The Little Village and the new businessowner hired on three women she knew from her home salon to work at the new location.
“I started working for her in her home beauty shop when I was 15,” Cumbo said. “We all got our start there.”
“She helped us when we all got married, she helped us with all of our weddings, and she really set us on our career paths,” she said. “And it was fun; she made everything fun.”
In 1985, she began building a series of homes on Mary Alice Park Road, using about four acres of property that she had purchased from back when she and her husband built their first home.
“Nobody else could believe that I would go and borrow money. All the ladies in the beauty shop would say, ‘Barbara, what are you doing?’” she said with a laugh. “And again, my husband thought I had lost my mind.”
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