Owner of Just My Essentials Overcomes Bigotry to Reopen Store

Nov 28, 2020 | 2020 Articles, Community, Steven Sanchez, Tales of Diversity

by Steven Sanchez

We’re in the 21st century and still we hear about hate crimes taking place. After all this time, there are even now people out in the world committing acts of racism, discrimination, Islamophobia, homophobia, xenophobia, etc., and it seems like we never progress. It’s like the 50s and the 60s all over again.

Chanel Wapner

Under this current administration, statistics released by the FBI showed hate crimes in the United States rose 17% in 2017 compared to the previous year: the third straight annual increase. There were 7,175 hate crime incidents in 2017, and of the crimes motivated by hatred of race or ethnicity, nearly half involved African-Americans and 11% were anti-Hispanic. Personal attacks motivated by bias or prejudice reached a 16-year high in 2018. In addition, experts say that more than half of all victims of hate crimes never file a complaint with the authorities. Even through all the hate, bigotry, and violence directed towards minorities, religions, and people who are different compared with society’s standards, we’re still here and we’re not going anywhere. Neither is Chanel Wapner.

Chanel, who owns Just My Essentials, a store in the heart of Old Town Clovis that specializes in bath, body, and skin care products like soaps and lotions, was the recipient of a hate crime as her store was vandalized with the N-word sprayed on her walls back in September. The African-American business owner and former New Yorker had fortunately never experienced that kind of hate in her 57 years of life, and this was the first time she faced adversity of that magnitude. Despite the damage, she vowed to never leave and for her business to come back stronger.

A GoFundMe page was set up for her to get back on her feet, but the donations far exceeded what the initial goal was. Because of that support from the community, she was able to recover faster than she expected. The reopening of her store took place on November 14, with a ribbon cutting ceremony, attended by a few Clovis Chamber of Commerce members, and a line of customers down the sidewalk on Pollasky Avenue waiting to buy her products. It was a tremendous success and going by the number of people that showed up in support of her just goes to show that after being here for three years, she’s here to stay.

Just My Essentials reopening

That’s why it was such an honor for Kings River Life to be present and witness her rise, and in the process, she informed us how she dealt with the situation, while expressing her appreciation of the support she received from the community, and her belief that the Central Valley will have more business owners that are people of color in the future.

KRL: When you set up your business in the heart of Old Town Clovis, were you by any chance concerned for your safety at first, or on edge as to how people here would accept you, since it has the reputation of being a conservative town?

Chanel: Not when I first opened up. I was excited to open here, even though I had heard the rumors, but I never experienced anything like this until I moved in and this situation happened.

KRL: For the time that you’ve been here how have people responded to your business?

Chanel: Since I’ve opened, it was good. It was slow at first, but it was steady growth. Since the incident, I can’t even keep up. In a strange way, it was a blessing in disguise. From all the support I’ve gotten in the community it wasn’t just to buy products but to support me personally. Then in conversation they never knew about me and wanted to know more about my business. And they became customers. I’m booked through November and December. The support is the blessing for me. The day it happened I considered leaving but the people made me feel that I don’t need to be scared, so things are fine.

Some of Chanel products

KRL: What’s the relationship like with your clients?

Chanel: I’m booked—112 back orders—for Christmas season. I’m taking orders now, and I have 350 custom gifts I have to put together in December.

KRL: Tell us a little bit about your life. And what roads led to you having your own business?

Chanel: It started 21 years ago when my daughter gave birth to my granddaughter, and whatever touched the baby’s skin, I wanted it to be all natural and organic as possible. I did research on essential oils, buying them, and experimented with them. Then I got my license to be a certified master aromatherapist and I started experimenting and it just grew…from a home business to where I needed a brick and mortar. I retired from my job in 2009 and I planned it, and I’ve been here for three years. But I was at another place for four years, so I’ve been doing this for seven years.

KRL: Do you believe that our current administration, and all the troubles that are taking place in our country, inspired the event that took place at your store?

Chanel: I really do. The temperature in the community right now, and social media, I believe has given people armor to say what they think and believe and remain hidden when they do. Politics is out of control right now and I believe people are so detached from a high power that this is why things are happening like this. The glory and grace of God have brought these people to me, and people have prayed with, for, and over me. That spiritual connection I have—and other people have—I feel empowers me.

KRL: Did you ever feel that before the vandalism took place, your life and livelihood were ever in jeopardy? And what was your initial reaction when it happened; was it a surprise or not?

Chanel: I’m not surprised in general, but when it comes to the BLM movement I was more concerned for my grandson. I was never concerned for myself, but I felt more like a target outside the store than I did than inside, and I felt like someone was watching me. I felt like a victim and a target for the first time in my life. That was scary. Seeing the N-word sprayed on the wall—it became personal. The person or people who did this did not like me personally, or know me by my name, but just didn’t like me based on my skin. Then I got mad. It was an eerie feeling. I’m 57 and I’m fortunate that I’ve never experienced anything like that, and when it happened it was so surreal.

KRL: From your perspective as an upstanding contributor to the community of Clovis, do you feel the town is progressing towards the right direction in equality, or does it have work to do?

Chanel: We’ll always have more work to do. Until that behavior is no longer taught, then it will continue. Part of the curriculums taught in schools should be cultural diversity, because if cultures that are different from yours are taught, then there would be a sense of understanding. [We need to teach about] people who look different, and have different thoughts and feelings, and that acceptance should be the norm. People need to learn.

KRL: Has there been any progress in the case? Is there a suspect yet?

Chanel: All I’ve been told is that the authorities are looking through hours of security footage but there hasn’t been anything yet.

KRL: There was a GoFundMe page set up for you, and the money donated surpassed what the initial goal was. Congratulations. What do you plan to do with the additional money?

It allowed me to get back on my feet. In dealing with my insurance that helped. I’d be closed if it wasn’t for those donations. It was a blessing. Me reopening in Clovis is a thank you to those people that helped. I’m so grateful.

KRL: Obviously, your goal is to restore your business but are there any other goals in mind for your shop, like any new changes?

Chanel: I’m staying consistent. There’s no need for changes.

KRL: When the pandemic hit how did you deal with the lockdown?

Chanel: I love doing this so when that happened I actually didn’t mind it because it allowed me to do more blending. And I also love gardening. I grow all my herbs that I use in some of my blends. It felt like I was here at the store. I had no problem with it.

KRL: During the lockdown, there were protests and upheaval related to movements asking for equality. What was your reaction to those when they were taking place?

Chanel: The part that bothered me was the vandalism, and the wrong people hiding behind the protests to incite violence so people can blame them. But I did appreciate the peaceful protesting. It’s your right, [but] the outside drama that came with it was unsettling. That’s what stopped me from participating in them, because I didn’t want to get caught up in the drama.

KRL: It’s unfortunate that all this happened to you, but do you mind being a figure for change in this community? Sometimes the sad thing is, some people are thrust into a role or become a face of change, but only by being victims of a bad situation. I can’t speak for you but I can bet that you don’t want this to define you or the community. You didn’t ask for this, but if this incident does become a catalyst for change, do you mind taking up that mantle?

Chanel: Not at all. I don’t mind. I control what I do or don’t do, what I do or don’t say. I’ve reached out to businesses owned by people of color and invited them to my store reopening and allow them to introduce their business to the residents of Clovis. That’s important to me, for them to get on my platform and introduce them to the people here.

KRL: Do you think there’ll be more businesses owned by people of color in Clovis in the future?

Chanel: I hope so. Diversity is growing and for the three years I’ve been here I’ve seen interracial relationships, and people of color telling me they live here.

For more information on Just My Essentials:

Steven Sanchez is a film graduate of UNLV. He’s a filmmaker, writer, photographer, and music manager. Obsessed with movies, comic books, and rock ‘n’ roll. A football fanatic, big fan of the Oakland Raiders. Enjoys reading and collecting vinyl records. If there’s a rock show in town more than likely he’ll be there. Loves his grandma’s home cooked meals. He has a twin sister and most people call him the pretty one. You can learn more about Steven on his YouTube channel and on Instagram @stevensanchez5807 photos and videos.


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