Gen Shatzer gets her hair styled by Kathryn Justus on the last day her beauty salon was open for customers after 52 years of business on Starr Avenue.
Soft gray tendrils fell to the green-speckled linoleum as Kathryn - “Please, just Kathy, honey” - and her long-time clients giggled at the stories they'd undoubtedly exchanged a hundred times.
This day was their last day for these tales, though, - at least here at Kathryn's Beauty Salon, 1936 Starr Ave.
For more than a half-century from this shop sandwiched between a row of houses and a car parts shop, Mrs. Justus had helped her clients navigate the trendiest styles and mend disaster coifs and colors left by others.
But with rising rental costs and pressure from her loved ones to retire, Mrs. Justus said it was time to throw in the hair towel. Her last day was Dec. 27.
“I'm 73, you know,” she said, the slicing of the scissors silenced momentarily as she shrugged. “Maybe it's just time to go.”
In the same building, Ace's Barber Shop also is closing. Nineteen-year owner Patti Dickey said high rent is forcing her to move to 1326 Nevada St., where she will open in March.
But at Kathryn's, this was it this day.
Between the tears and hugs and promises to stay in touch, there was time for just another story or two.
“Years ago, I had a friend in New York who had just finished school. She wanted to color my hair sable brown,” recalled Gen Shatzer, 78, who for 50 years has come to Mrs. Justus twice a month for a cut, shampoo, and set.
“Well my hair took all of the color and it ended up black, just black. I looked like Dracula's daughter, and when my husband came home he looked at my head and told me to `Get a club and kill that thing before it gets away.'
A certificate of appreciation was sent to Kathryn Justus from Waite High School along with a personal note from high school administrator Jerry Wasserman.
“I came to Kathryn and she turned it this real pretty soft red color, and that's what I was for a long time. Then one day I realized that I had actually turned gray. We let it go then, and it's been that ever since.”
Like her customers, the shop, itself, had undergone some cosmetic transformations here and there. Still, like any good neighborhood business, there were basics you could always count on.
The gold-flecked work station was always lined with solutions and mirrors and an assortment of brushes and combs and scissors. Above the wall mirror were an ever-growing line of photos - first of her four children, then grandchildren, and most recently great-grandchildren.
Mrs. Justus flattened a line of wet curls between her fingers, and in three snips, the curls slid down the plastic cape.
“I gave this perm once,” she recalled. “That lady's hair turned pink.”
“It was a [permanent solution] I'd always used, but this time it was pink. I just kept shampooing and shampooing and it finally faded, and I wrote to the company and they had to refund me the cost of one perm.”
Over time, trends lurched forward and Mrs. Justus noticed her own customer-base growing grayer and their styles less adventurous.
Quite frankly, that was fine.
“I'm an old lady, and I'm from the old school,” she said. “I can do butches and squirrel tails. But I don't like the other stuff, the wild styles. I don't even do good flat tops. That's a barber's job, I think.”
Mrs. Justus said she'll erect one of the barber chairs in the basement of her nearby home, so she can continue giving cuts to her four children, 16 grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.
The trill of a northern mocking bird breaks the silence from a clock on the wall that features a different songbird for each hour. Two o'clock.
Mrs. Justus sighed. Just four clients left of the afternoon, of her career.
“It hasn't hit me yet. It won't for a few weeks,” she said. “But a few of the ladies this week have left and we've cried. It's been a good run here. I've had a good thing.”
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