Christine McKinnon knows what it's like to start out as a small business owner in Hamilton. As the co-owner and chief stylist for over 31 years at McKinnon Hair Design on Balsam Ave., she remembers how stressful it was in the early days.

"When you open, you're so focused on the present because that's all you've got. You don't even think about the future, you just do it," she says.

So she decided to give back to the small business community that she says has supported her over the years by offering free hair care services — cuts, colours, styles, anything — to small business owners for the month of February.

They must have been in business for no more than two years and employ at least one person, but other than those two caveats, her door is wide open — even to fellow hair stylists.

"When you give to somebody, you get way, way more back," she says. "Hamilton has been an unbelievable community for us."

Community co-operation

Josie Rudderham and Nicole Miller, owners of Cake and Loaf bakery on Dundurn St. S, have been in business for about a year and a half. They jumped at the chance for the free hair-styling services, partly because they so rarely get a chance to make time for themselves.

'I'm finding that all Hamilton businesses are more or less embracing each other. We tend to help each other out with anything and everything.' —Nicole Miller, Cake and Loaf bakery

Between the fledging business, a three-year-old daughter at home and a second baby on the way, Rudderham says pampering herself doesn't make it onto the list of things to do.

"It's absolutely amazing," she says. "To be able to step out, especially in the middle of the day, and just have an hour to yourself to be totally spoiled, it means a lot. It kind of helps you refocus on your business, too."

But they weren't necessarily surprised by the kind offer. Miller says it's typical of the small business community in Hamilton that people look out for one another and help whenever they can.

"I'm finding that all Hamilton businesses are more or less embracing each other. We tend to help each other out with anything and everything," she says.

The city has taken notice of this dynamic, too. Michael Marini, a marketing coordinator in the city's economic development department, says this is just one example of many he's encountered of members of the business community supporting each other.

"I've seen relationships like Upper Gage Garage and food trucks like Gorilla cheese. Two different business models working together to support one another," he says.  "It's indicative of the warmth and comradery we're trying to create in the business community here."

Aside from the goodwill, McKinnon says her hair-styling offer is also a smart business move for her.

"It gets our new generation of hairdressers connected with this generation of business owners," she says, helping to establish relationships that will pay off in years to come.

The platter of muffins, doughnuts and cookies the Cake and Loaf girls brought along as a thank-you gift probably didn't hurt, either.