After 62 years of styling hair, proprietor of Ruby’s Beauty Shop is still going strong –
Story and photo by Patricia Beech –
Ruby’s Beauty Shop is a West Union landmark.
The little red cottage sitting on the corner of Logan’s Lane is an oasis of sorts for its regular customers. It’s a place where kindred spirits meet to talk and exchange stories, and if they’re lucky, gain a little advise from the proprietor, Pat Wylie.
Wylie, who turned 80 years-old last week, has worked 62 years in the little shop she once shared with her mother, and now shares with her daughter.
The grandmother and great-grandmother of ten runs what might be the most unique boutique in town. People calling for appointments are given a multi-generational choice of beauticians.
“I ask them if they want young, middle aged, or old, and I tell them, if they’re in a hurry to choose young, and if they’ve got time to spend, choose old,” said Wylie.
At 2:30 p.m. in the afternoon Wylie is behind her stylists chair putting the finishing touches on a customer’s hairdo. She doesn’t look her age, or act it. Her dark hair is carefully styled, her nails neatly manicured, and her feet are clad in black socks and silver slides. Her green eyes sparkle when she laughs. She has not lost interest in life or the opportunities it offers. “I love life,” she says. “My mother loved life and my daughter loves life, we were raised to love life.”
“She’s a great person,” says long-time customer Karen Grooms. “She is always giving to others – that’s the kind of person she is.”
Another customer chimes in, “She and her mother both were like that – they’re very giving to people in need.”
Wylie smiles at the compliments and says, “I love living in a small place where people know and take care of each other.”
Wylie says she and her sister were taught to give and help others. “My mother was always giving to others – she bought wedding dresses for girls, she bought formals, she bought band uniforms, she would do anything for the school, she even sent a couple girls to beauty school.”
Wylie is understandably proud of her mother, Ruby Potts, who in 1948 started the family’s beauty business.
“I don’t see how she made it,” says Wylie, “She worked till 1 a.m. some nights. Before I went to bed, I’d stand and feed her her dinner because she wouldn’t stop to eat.”
Wylie says she got her work ethic from her mother.
“I was brought up to believe that if you’re able to get up, walk around, and get dressed, then you’re able to come to work,” she says. “We were taught that you have to keep up, but as I said, I worked for my mother, and I’ve never worked anyplace else.”
Customers at Ruby’s walk into a tiny waiting room that was the original beauty shop opened by Wylie’s mother 68 years ago. Now it is a shrine to her memory. The vintage chairs lining the walls all came from Mrs. Potts’ original salon, the painted walls are decorated with her mother’s state licenses, photos, and a plaque recognizing her 55th year in business. Mrs. Potts worked another seven years in the shop before retiring at the age of 80 for health reasons.
Wylie has no intention of following suit. “I won’t retire until all my customers are gone, then I’ll consider it, but as long as I’m able, I’ll be up here from Tuesday to Saturday, ” she says laughing. “Until then, I’m going to try to keep up with myself, and stand behind the chair, and give people advice.”
Wylie wasn’t always enthusiastic about being a beautician. “I didn’t want to go to beauty school,” she says. “I had to work in my mother’s shop when I was a little girl. My job was picking hairpins up off the floor with a magnet every evening, so I was really tired of it.”
Graduating from high school at 17 years old, she says she didn’t have many options. “I wanted to leave home, everyone does at that age,” she sais. “So, I went to live with my aunt in Dayton and I went to beauty school.”
During her training Wylie returned home every weekend to work in her mother’s shop. “Mother would try to teach me how to do things her way, and I’d tell her ‘Mother, I’m going to beauty school and I have to do things the way they’re teaching me. When I’m out of beauty school, you can teach me your way.”
Through the years, both she and her mother have given many other young beauticians a start in their busy shop.
“My mother was very good about that, many of them are still working,” Wylie says, but adds that it is becoming more difficult for stylist to succeed in business. “So many have quit the business that were so good,” she says, “In beauty work you have no insurance, and today insurance is the main thing.”
At 80, Wylie is considered a fount of wisdom by customers who bypass the waiting area to gather in the salon.
“She’s always willing to help,” says Grooms. “If you have something on your mind and you need to talk to somebody, you can talk to her.”
People who come seeking advice from Wylie don’t always hear what they want to hear. She says she tells them the truth: “I love them, and when you truly love somebody, you have the right to tell them the truth, even it it’s good or bad, or it hurts.”
Concerning beauty shop gossip, Wylie shrugs and says, “We don’t know what goes on under the dryers.” She relates tales of angry customers calling her mother to complain that they were the subject of shop gossip. Mother would tell them, “It may have been told, but I didn’t hear it.”
Wylie says that after she expanded the shop’s space it became impossible to hear customers talking. “We don’t hear a thing,” she says, “And besides, all the gossip comes from barber shops, not beauty salons.”