Raynetta Mobley founded successful braiding salon 12 years ago

Published June 18 2012
Updated June 19 2012

ST. PETERSBURG — Raynetta Mobley loved yellow butterflies. To see one meant a beautiful day was here.

Ms. Mobley wove exuberant colors into the dresses and caftans, tie-dyes and jewelry she bought on other continents or made herself, now visible through the window of her shop, Simply Natural Braid Salon and Boutique.

Ms. Mobley started the business at 1622 Central Ave. in 2000, and has run it with several of her sisters. The store reflects her eclectic tastes and singular approach to people and life.

Customers, including men, came in to have their hair braided or to browse Ms. Mobley's international clothing and artifacts from her travel to Africa or Europe. Ms. Mobley welcomed them with rocking chairs, jazz in the background but no television, and conversation that gravitated toward the spiritual.

"When you went there, it wasn't frivolous talk," said Debra Woodard, her aunt. "I have never been there when people were gossiping. You left there with a feeling of being exalted by people who cared about you."

Ms. Mobley came from an entrepreneurial family. A sister Drucella runs a hair products business, her brother Milton a barber shop.

"Raynetta was a real inspiration to a whole host of young entrepreneurs I would send her way, and use her as an example of what you can accomplish with drive and ambition," said former Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis.

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Ms. Mobley was born in Barwick, Ga., and moved to St. Petersburg with her family at age 5. She graduated from Gibbs High School, then worked at Allstate Insurance for 25 years. In the mid 1990s, she ran an African-American art gallery, then closed that in 2000 to open Simply Natural.

"She started the shop when braiding salons were thriving," Woodard said.

Friends thought of her as a counselor. A favorite expression: "Go for it, you can do it."

She ran an African booth for the St. Petersburg International Folk Fair, was active in Unity Temple Church and spoke to community groups.

Ms. Mobley kept a journal filled with inspiration, said Rosa Newton, her sister. When doctors diagnosed her with late-stage breast cancer in January, she stayed upbeat.

As she weakened, even the prospect of death seemed to inspire her.

"She would say, 'A lot of people are going to get healed from this,' " her sister said. When friends and family visited her in the hospital, Newton said, "She would end up comforting them."

Ms. Mobley died June 6, in Hospice House Woodside. She was 61.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248.