In 1982, South Street was an urban emptiness. A few businesses and scruffy triple deckers suffered traffic backups when trolleys ran along its narrow length. Congregations of teenagers in what was then called the South Street Projects made for scary passage from the Monument to Forest Hills.
Fresh Hair opened in midsummer, quickly followed by Ferris Wheels and the attorney's office Fenn & King. Arborway Foods (now Harvest Co-op) grew into a mini-market, and suddenly the top of South Street was anchored to Centre Street.
This is the story of Fresh Hair because this has become my life and what I know best. But first I have to tell you about me. I grew up in a modest ranch house on the top of Moss Hill. We walked down the footpath to the Manning School, and we walked to the business district down the steps that ended on May Street. My parents took us to Hanlons (now City Feed) for shoes but I was more interested in the toys at Erco's (now People's Bank). Marshals (now Tedeschi's at the Monument) competed with Hailers (now Purple Cactus). We got our socks at Wayne's (now Q Salon), birthday cards at Jones' (now Fire Opal), and almost everything else could be found at Woolworths (now Goodwill). I hung around with a group of kids that my parents did not approve of at Papa Gino's (now Same Old Place), and I probably never ventured past the Post Office. I left town for college but afterwards couldn't resist the camaraderie and cheap rent of Jamaica Plain. After some career changes I went to cosmetology school and found myself on Newbury Street in 1980 where I met my business partner, Marie.
The 600 square foot space which became Fresh Hair was an unused woodworking shop which rented for $250 a month. Any improvements we made were on our own dime. For six weeks we labored with one actual carpenter and a few friends. Mostly I remember scrapping the mustard yellow paint off of the wainscoting, stoking our energy with large hummous sandwiches from the Blackbird Kitchen (now Ten Tables). When we officially opened our door for business on July 15, our large clean windows stood out on South Street. We were young and in tune with all that JP was and still is, and we thrived immediately.
Within two months we hired our first employee. By 1986 we had added three more hairstylists. Then one summer evening a fire started in the little grocery next door and quickly spread into the salon. At that time we had metal grates covering our windows at night. The firefighters had to cut off the locks to get in and then they hacked through the horsehair plaster walls and ceiling. What a mess! But rising like a phoenix from the ashes, we took over the corner space and rebuilt. For three months we worked with our mirrors propped up on milk crates in a nearby office space while our clients came for their appointments with their hair already washed. We also rented some space at ClaMar's (now Miss Laura's) to do our perms and hair colors.
Our newly renovated salon had a real office to use instead of the lunch counter, and a reception desk that was more than unfinished furniture. We had a big party in 1987 to celebrate our fifth year of being in business. Never in my wildest dreams did I think Fresh Hair would continue for 25 more years.
The years after that began to roll faster. Fresh Hair added services and staff and clients. My business partner and I found domestic partners and began to have babies. In 1998 we decided to end our business partnership and I was lucky enough to buy my building, saving it from foreclosure. Finding myself alone in my office, I felt like a start-up. My enthusiasm for the salon was like falling in love, and I worked diligently to grow Fresh Hair.
As the years went by, many people trained at Fresh Hair. An article in the JP Gazette in October 2011 chronicled the half dozen salons within a two mile radius that are currently owned and staffed with former Fresh Hair employees. I am proud to have fostered this entrepreneurial spirit.
Before the current configuration of storefronts along this block of South Street, there was Costello's Insurance and then Laxton Records. Herb's TV had Miss Piggy spinning around in his window. Ferris Wheels moved side to side, growing and shrinking and growing again. I opened Fresh Copy in 2005 but sold it to Jeffrey Ferris in 2008 when it became clear that I really wanted to work only in the salon.
Fresh Hair is relatively stable in size, services offered, hours of operation, and staffing. Systems are in place for running almost every aspect of a smooth business. Fresh Hair has won the JP Gazette's Best Personal Service category every year that the contest has been held, and one year we also won Friendliest Business of which I am extremely proud. This is my neighborhood and I want to know my compatriots. I hope that Fresh Hair will be known to all who reside here. There are some who consider Fresh Hair to be retro, but doesn't history just keep repeating itself? Fresh Hair's future is welcomed with open arms.
In honor of our 30th year of being in business, we are having a big party (in conjunction with Ferris Wheels, and even the Hallway Gallery's 3rd birthday) on Thursday August 2 beginning at 5pm. This is also the night of First Thursday so there are plenty of reasons to wander the streets. Please stop by and say hello. There will be music, refreshments and fun for all!
Thank you, Jamaica Plain!