Long before the area was known as the North Shore, Cara Duffy started styling hair at a small salon on Market Street, in the plaza that now houses popular local restaurants Taco Mamacita and Milk & Honey.
After more than four decades, the beauty fixture closed last week.
Increasing overhead and traffic problems for Duffy's customers necessitated a relocation to the Magic Mirror salon in Red Bank, where she said she's starting this week.
Duffy started working at what was most recently known as Cara's Beauty Clinic in her early 20s. Originally from Winchester, Ind., she moved down to Chattanooga after being wooed by a particularly charming Ruby Falls tour guide during a trip. The marriage lasted less than a year, but her love of the city never ended.
Neither have the friendships she made through the shop.
For decades, Nelsie Long traveled from Lookout Mountain down to Cara's Beauty Clinic to get her hair done. Every time, Long wore her favorite mink coat she bought with her Red Cross money she earned during World War II.
One can't exactly get a perm in a mink coat, so Long would always let Duffy wear the coat while she sat in the chair.
When Long passed away in 2004, Duffy was shocked to learn she'd willed the mink coat to her.
"She was much bigger than me, and the coat would come down to the floor on me," Duffy laughed, recalling her customer-turned-friend. "I'd be shampooing in a mink coat. I still have it, too."
After a decade at the shop, Duffy — with encouragement from a new husband — became the owner. During her long tenure, many of the movers and shakers in Chattanooga came to her shop for new styles and gossip.
Duffy is not happy to relinquish her salon, but times have changed for her. Her second husband, with whom she shared more than 30 years, passed away from multiple sclerosis in 2014, and she's currently in the process of selling her home while changing jobs.
She's also considering writing a book detailing all those years with the colorful cast of Lookout Mountain. She's even got a working title: "A Widow's Guide to Happy Hour, Good Food, Friends, and Whining." Writing is proving a bit difficult, though.
"Every time we start, we start drinking and forget to turn on the recorder," she laughed.
Her comrade in storytelling and drinking is her longtime friend Peggy McIntosh, who started coming into the salon right as Duffy started in the early '70s. Being the only 20-year-olds in a salon full of mothers and retirees quickly had them talking and getting together outside of work.
That's not to say the environment was unwelcoming, though. Duffy and McIntosh stayed faithful to Cara's Beauty Clinic for a reason.
"There's always been such a nice group of people here," McIntosh said of her decades as a loyal customer. "It felt a bit exclusive, honestly. All the women knew each other from elsewhere, from church or work. They were so welcoming, though."
McIntosh moved away several times with her husband for his job, but every time they moved back, she'd immediately return to Cara's Beauty Clinic to get her hair done by Duffy.
"Cara and I just clicked as friends, and I'm a very loyal person," McIntosh said. "When I like something, I stay with it."
That loyalty will follow Duffy to Red Bank. Despite the move, Duffy said she has no doubt she'll keep seeing the same group of wonderful ladies she's grown to love each week through pampering and gossip.
As for her space, it's not known who will take over her location or what will happen to it. Duffy said next-door neighbor Milk & Honey expressed interest in the space when she signed her lease two years ago, but they haven't had any further conversations about it since, a sentiment backed up by the plaza's landlord Clayton Abercrombie.
According to Abercrombie, there are several parties interested in the space, but he declined to go into further detail.
Email Shane Foley at email@example.com.