Bouffant Salon: A test of time

DUNLAP, Tenn. - Stepping into the 50-year-old Bouffant Salon is a little like stepping back in time.

photo Anna Faye Heard, background, finishes styling Naomi Barker's hair while her daughter Erika Greer, foreground, colors Melanie Graves' hair at Bouffant Salon in Dunlap, Tenn. Heard has been running the salon since she was 19 years old. The salon is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

The waiting area's burgundy carpet and floral wallpaper seamlessly flow into the wood-paneled walls and hardwood floors of the cutting stations. A young woman blow dries a client's hair while her mother sits in the adjoining room, working on a longtime customer's fingernails as her husband watches TV in what she refers to as "his apartment."

Leaning over a small table, Anna Faye Heard files down Naomi Barker's nails. Barker, with her hair wound tightly in yellow, blue, orange and purple rollers, has visited Heard's shop twice a week for nearly 15 years.

"This is a modern day 'Steel Magnolias,' that's what I like to say," Heard says as she applies clear polish to Barker's nails. "People just come in, if there's laundry that needs to be done, they help me with it and they stay as long as they want."

Now 68, Heard started her business when she was just 18 and fresh out of beauty school. She'd get up at 3 a.m. and ride from her home on Fredonia Mountain down to Chattanooga with people who worked at the former Combustion Engineering firm, sleeping on a couch in the school's lobby before class began.

When she set up shop in 1961, the bouffant - a high-piled hairstyle - was the most popular fashion and she chose to name her salon after it. Though styles have waxed and waned over the years, the Bouffant Salon has stood the test of time.

"When we first started, I had nine dryers and every one of them was always full," Heard said.

Now the shop has three, and business is steady. The three hair dressers - including Heard's daughter, Erika Greer - serve about 60 clients a week, including the 22 Heard tends to each Friday.

Costs have gone up some over the years.

In 1975, a shampoo at the salon was $2.50. Today, customers pay $11.

"We try to keep our prices down so we can stay within everyone's means," Heard said. "Supplies are getting so expensive, though; we have to adjust."

After being in business for so long, many of her clients are in their 70s, 80s and 90s and she has had several die in recent years.

"The last thing I can do for them is go to the funeral home and do their hair," she said.

Looking to the future, Heard hopes she can stay in business another decade. After that, she hopes to pass the shears to her daughter.

"It's very chaotic. ... I can't do it like mom does, that's for sure," Greer said about the possibility of running the salon one day.

Her daughter has already expressed interest in becoming a hairdresser, giving hope to Heard that her legacy might run three generations.

For now, she's focusing on keeping her clients happy and having them to come back.

Barker said all it took was one visit to convince her that the Bouffant Salon was where she wanted to be.

"What lady doesn't want to get her hair done?" she asked. "She does what we want, and it's a friendly atmosphere."