Business Monday: Aspen Hair Co. cuts out after 32 years in town
Rare are the Aspen businesses today that don’t take credit cards and operate on handshake agreements, while their hands-on owners enjoy the freedom to work on their own terms.
Yet for 32 years, The Aspen Hair Co. — synonymous with its owners who’ve simply gone by Karen and Bea — managed to pull it off.
On Friday, Karen Birach and Bea Haggerty bid farewell to their business and thanked their longtime customers with a casual party at the salon tucked away upstairs at 420 E. Hyman Ave.
“We started 32 years ago because we wanted to have a job with more flexibility, where we could have our own hours and we didn’t have to answer to anybody, and so we found this spot,” Haggerty said.
With the closing, Haggerty, 68, is now officially retired, and said she’s looking forward to a relaxing winter with morning coffee and cross-country skiing. Birach, 61, said she’ll keep working as a hairstylist, but at Ajax Salon & Spa upstairs above the Grog Shop at 720 E. Durant Ave. Like the other businesses at the Hyman Avenue mall building — Annette’s Mountain Bake Shop, CB Paws, and the gallery run by Guadalupe Laiz — The Aspen Hair Co. is vacating the building because of its pending demolition and remodel.
Birach and Haggerty, who both moved to Aspen at different times in 1978, came to knew each other through the salon business, and decided they’d had enough of working for someone else. No sooner had they agreed to put up their own shingle that the Hyman spot became available.
The late George Vicenzi, who also owned the former Aspen post office space on Hyman where the old Wienerstube restaurant would later open, owned the Hyman building as well, and was a friend of Birach’s. They reached an agreement the same day the two hairstylists quit their jobs. “The doors just flew open,” Birach said. “We were just hoping we could make it one year, and now it’s 32 years.”
First they had to overhaul what had been a loft apartment unit boasting shag rugs and a Budweiser Tiffany lamp.
“It was the true party central,” Birach said, recalling that some of their early customers relayed they’d had a few late nights there.
As The Aspen Hair Co. built its stable of clients with Birach and Haggerty running its daily affairs, their building changed landlords, but their rent stayed the same. They both admit that was good fortune in Aspen’s cutthroat commercial environment. They didn’t enter lease agreements until their most recent landlord, and even that was a loose arrangement, they said. There were some growing pains, however, like their first year when the two neophyte business operators realized that they’d need to start paying taxes.
“We’ve always had a great deal; it’s been a sweetheart deal,” Birach said. “Our owners were really good to us. It’s as if we’ve had a guardian angel here from the get-go, the way the doors were opened and then it was sold and they didn’t raise our rent and it was sold again and they didn’t raise our rent. That doesn’t happen.”
The two ran their hairstylist operations independently, but split the rent and other costs. It also helped that they got along well, they both said.
Their customers mainly were working-class locals who could afford their prices — $45 for a men’s cut and $60 for women’s.
Over the three-plus decades, Birach and Haggerty made a number of friends and acquaintances.
“What’s been fun is, 32 years ago we saw our clientele and you watched them get married and watched them have babies and then those kids grew and we did their hair and then their babies’,” Birach said. “We’ve watched people get married and divorced, their parents die and their dogs die.”
She added, “I’ve been brought to tears sometimes, and laughed harder than you ever think. People would tell me things I wouldn’t tell my best friends. Then there are people who are amazingly shy and quiet, and those who tell it all.”
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