Sheena McCullers steered her husband Kyle toward U-M for his doctoral program in business, passing up offers from the likes of M.I.T. and Cornell. They moved here from Brooklyn, New York in 2021 along with their toddler son. It’s a testament not only to her influence but also to her hopes that Ann Arbor would prove a comfortable cultural fit for their young African American family.

“I mean, who says no to M.I.T.? Nobody, really!” she recalls in the cozy seating area of her new beauty supply shop and gift boutique, Della’s. It’s her first physical storefront, born from the desire to build community for herself and particularly for women of color with specialized hair care needs.

McCullers struggled to adjust through that first long winter, with the pandemic still a major factor in daily life. “I remember people saying Ann Arbor was really diverse. You’re gonna see so many Black and brown people, you’re going to feel like you’re in New York, you’re going to really feel that. And during the pandemic, I didn’t feel that, because so many people were inside and were in their cars going to and from, and I was so depressed.

“I remember people saying Ann Arbor was really diverse,” McCullers says, telling her, “‘You’re gonna see so many Black and brown people, you’re going to feel like you’re in New York, you’re going to really feel that.’ And during the pandemic, I didn’t feel that.”

“When you’re a transplant, you start looking for your people or places where you feel like you belong or like, is this space really right for me? Did I make the right decision?” she recalls questioning. “‘Where are people hiding?’ is what we kind of felt like. We know that there’s a big population of Black and brown people here, but we weren’t really finding that.”

From that and her own hair care needs emerged the notion of creating a beauty supply store, since the closest comparable business she found is Beauty Spot, out Washtenaw Ave. almost to Golfside in Pittsfield Township.

“I want to create a space where Black women can come in and see themselves represented, where there’s always gonna be good music, the playlist is gonna be amazing, but also the products and the inventory will be curated,” she says. Her inventory includes hair care and styling products (edge control, shampoo, conditioner, dyes); hair itself (for protective styles such as braids, twist, faux locs); and an eclectic array of small gifts, including candles, greeting cards, and wall decor.

“If I can have an impact, and I can bring people together in this space where they feel like they have community, and I can give them the things that they need, where they can feel like they belong here even more than they already do because there’s a space that reaffirms that, then I’ll feel like that’s like heart work for me,” she says.

McCullers’ adventure starting up a one-woman shop, a 500-square-foot walk-up combining two professional suites above the new campus-area Sweetgreen, hasn’t turned out to be a lonely one after all. Her choices and lessons learned have been shared all along the way.

“My husband’s studying race entrepreneurship. He’s in a strategy program over at Ross, and so I fit kind of squarely into what he’s studying,” she explains. “He decided that he was going to document my journey of opening the store” and share the unfolding experience with his academic peers. “So there’s a whole group of people who I didn’t even know who knew all of my business,” she laughs, a tension resolved by the term’s end, when she met with the classmates via Zoom. They later visited her fledgling store, with many helping distribute Della’s promotional flyers around campus and town.

A native of Toledo, McCullers, thirty-nine, majored in interpersonal communication at Bowling Green and earned her master’s degree in public administration at Baruch College, with a journalism internship in Atlanta in between. She’s worked in publishing, education, and the nonprofit sector, while also pursuing side hustles flipping vintage and children’s clothing online and making brass jewelry.

Returning to this region reflects the value she places on family, as does the branding choice of Della’s, the result of a poll-tested selection of “old auntie names.” (She says late entertainer Della Reese, a Detroit native, is a “classic” example.)

“When I think about my aunts, they’ve all done my hair for years. That’s where I learned about gossip. That’s where I would hear about inappropriate stories, things about family members that I wasn’t supposed to know,” she confides. “And then also just like they gave the best hugs. They made me feel really good, and I knew whenever I went over there that you’re going to be well taken care of.

“I’m an auntie. I would want whoever comes in here to feel like they’re well taken care of, I have what they need, they walk in here, and it’s a vibe and just a space where they feel warm and welcome.”

Della’s, 313 S. State St., ste. 6, (734) 474–9769. Wed.–Sat. 11 a.m.–6 p.m.Closed Sun.–Tues.