West Side Stories: Shirley's Hair Fashions

West Side Stories: Shirley’s Hair Fashions

1969 was the year Richard Nixon was inaugurated as the 37th President of the United States, John Lennon married Yoko Ono and United States astronauts walked the surface of the moon for the first time.

It was also the year Shirley Lauver started her decades-long career as a hairstylist on the west side of South Bend.

Now, 54 years later, Shirley is putting down her rollers and hairspray for a new calling: retirement.

Shirley’s passion for hairstyling began young in the basement of her childhood home. Armed with a large mirror and stand-up hair dryer, the then-grade schooler officially began her career, starting with family members’ hair before moving on to new clients.

“I always wanted to do hair,” Shirley said. “I used to ride my bike clear to my grandmother’s, it was almost three miles from the house, and pin curl her hair every Saturday.”

Jena Stopczynski / ABC57 Jena Stopczynski / ABC57 Jena Stopczynski / ABC57

At the age of 19, Shirley moved beyond those four walls, working for a woman in the Mary Crest building on Western Avenue. Her skills took off, and three years down the line, the woman she worked for sold her spot in the building, leaving an opening for Shirley to step in and take over herself.

Shirley didn’t intend to venture out and start her own business but when the opportunity presented itself, she didn’t knock – she marched through the door. From there, Shirley’s Hair Fashions was born.

When starting out, roller work and teasing were all the rage, and Shirley kept busy with customers’ weekly appointments. One customer had been with her nearly 50 years, getting her hair done by Shirley well into her 90s.

by Keith Lauver

Fifteen years after establishing the business in Mary Crest, another building went on the market, and Shirley moved her shop to its current location off Mayflower Road near Eby’s Old Fashioned Meat Market.

There, she’d spend most of her career building lifelong friendships with the many regular customers that walked through her doors. It’s no small feat, being trusted with someone’s hair, a part of a person that often reflects their personality, taste and opinion of themselves. It’s something Shirley has always handled delicately.

“You don't want to try to force them into something that they're not gonna like,” she said. “And if they do try to change their hairstyle, I can tell them, ‘Well, I'll do it for you, but I don't think you're gonna like it.’ And so they wind up going back.”

It’s that attitude that’s kept many customers coming back, she said. Well, that, and her hard-to-beat prices, which sit well below average for most stylists in the area.

Over time, Shirley built a family in the profession, both with customers and employees. One employee, Jeanie Sniadecki, worked with Shirley for 31 years before retiring this past October. Jeanie’s daughter, Laura, said her mom was nervous about joining Shirley’s team. That anxiety disappeared the day she arrived.

Shirley (left) and Jeanie (middle) at the shop. Keith Lauver

“She was like, ‘Oh, she really was so nice, I think this is going to be a good fit,’” Laura said. “They just gelled so well together that it worked...Shirley became kind of a second mom to me.”

Jeanie’s retirement got things rolling for Shirley’s own decision. Though she’d worked alone before, Shirley knew she didn’t want to look for someone new after 31 years.

But that doesn’t mean she wanted to retire. In fact, no one believed she ever would.

“I actually thought she was going to work until the very end,” said Keith Lauver, Shirley’s son.

“I've been on the fence about it, about retiring,” she said. “But I never thought I would either. I guess it comes to, you come to a time in your life that you got to make some kind of decision.”

And on Dec. 22, the decision was solidified, and Shirley’s Hair Fashions closed its doors for the last time...though she’ll still be available when her husband or sons need a trim.

Shirley locking up one last time. Keith Lauver

As for what she’s looking forward to in retirement, Shirley said she has plenty to keep her occupied, including grandkids to visit out west. She’ll miss the community she built in the shop, and they’ll miss her too, but many of her customers are from the West Side, so she’s banking on seeing them often.

“It's been a pretty wonderful career for her,” Keith said. “I mean, it's pretty impressive to own a business for 51 years. And to do this for 54, that doesn't happen very often anymore.”

“I just want to thank all the people, my customers for, you know, supporting me all these years,” she said. “It's been great. It's been a wild ride.”

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