City Centered: Here's to the Rest

Sometimes you don’t have to be “best” to make a big impact.

blow dry tools

In an unseasonably cold April day (is there any other kind?), my kids and I trekked to St. Paul for our monthly haircuts. It was a typically busy Saturday at Grand Hair & Beyond, with half a dozen stylists doing their thing and customers like us sneaking in one last cut/perm/style before the witching hour. The shelves seemed bare, but there were few other signs that this thriving business was hours from the end of its natural life.

Most of us build our lives around and find comfort in ritual. I started getting my hair cut here in 1982, when the place was known as Jerome’s Hair Fashions and did a brisk trade in white bouffants and tight perms. I was in my second year at Macalester College and feeling rooted enough that I needed a regular place to deal with my unruly curly hair. Cindy Doody started a year later and has been cutting my hair ever since.

Though I moved across the river to Minneapolis in 1997, my loyalties stayed steadfast. When my kids needed their first haircuts, it happened at Grand Hair. Cindy, her brother Chris Kline (who bought the business from Jerome in 1985), and his wife Stephanie grew from young adults like me to middle age in the shop.

Still, I was shocked to learn this winter that Grand Hair would be closing. Jerome’s/Grand Hair had been a fixture in the 1600 blocks of Grand since 1958. As the trade trended away from ladies with elaborate, high-maintenance hairdos, Chris renovated and added shelves of hair-care product to draw in a generation accustomed to doing it themselves. The business seemed secure.

But recently, when one of his staff announced she was moving out of town, Chris made a tough call. Facing a couple years of diminished income until he could break in a new stylist who could build a clientele, and seeing his own retirement window coming closer and closer, he decided to take Macalester College up on its standing offer to buy the building. The school asked him to stay as a tenant and keep Grand Hair open, but he didn’t want the hassle.

Chris, Stephanie, and Cindy decided to rent stylist chairs at a salon near Highland Park. Their only variables would be how many customers they could bring in each day. The rest of Grand Hair’s stylists scattered to other St. Paul salons.

On April 12 Grand Hair closed never to reopen. (Macalester hopes to attract a new tenant, Chris says.) My kids and I were among the last customers. And the melancholy day got me thinking about how we take for granted the steady presence of small-business people whose skillful reliability makes it easy to go about our lives. They are there when we need them, decade after decade, often toiling without recognition.

It may seem out of place in a magazine that painstakingly seeks out what’s new and best to celebrate a business whose notoriety was based solely in the appreciation of its loyal customers, but that’s life in small business. It isn’t cutting edge or “buzzy,” but in an era of disposability, a half-century of service is the surest definition of excellence.

Thanks Cindy, Chris, and Stephanie. You were never on our cover, but in my world you sure were the best.