- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 6, 2014

AUBURN, Mich. (AP) - “I’ve never had a bad customer,” said Betty Sczepanski as she finished up the styling on one of her most faithful clients. “Let’s see how good you look.” She turned customer Helen Ward in the beauty chair so they both could see the finished product in the mirror.

Sczepanski has been cutting and styling women’s hair since before 1960, and she has owned and operated her own shop, Betty’s Beauty Shop, since 1966. And don’t even think about asking her what she and her clients talk about in her one-room beauty shop.

“We talk about everything,” Sczepanski told the Midland Daily News ( https://bit.ly/1pTB7Ql ) while she put the finishing touches on Ward’s hair. “You wouldn’t want to hear it. And that’s all I’m gonna tell you.”

“Yes, everything,” Ward agreed, laughing. “Local news, the way the world is now a days.”

Sczepanski cuts and colors hair, does permanents and shampoos and sets.

“I don’t do men’s hair though,” Sczepanski said. “Maybe the women scare them away.” The stylist has cut plenty of men’s hair in her time, but these days, her clients are all ladies.

Sczepanski attended the now defunct Bay City Beauty College, graduating in 1954. She pointed to a black-and-white photograph on the wall of her shop that shows her and several of her beauty school classmates.

“Can you find me,” she asked with a laugh. “I’m the best looking one.” Sczepanski graduated from the beauty school when she was 20 years old.

After graduation, she found herself working at various shops in the area.

“I did some odd jobs here and there. I worked for Mr. and Mrs. James (in their shop) in Bay City. I started out as a shampoo girl,” Sczepanski said. “That’s how all the girls started.” After working at a few small beauty shops, Sczepanski found work at The Town Beauty Shop in downtown Midland in 1960.

Around this time, she met Helen Ward of Midland, who would become a lifelong customer. Ward said a neighbor told her of the new stylist in town, so Ward decided to drop in to get her hair done.

“I needed a permanent,” Ward said. “A lot of the girls at that time were doing the home permanent kits, but I never did.” Ward liked how Sczepanski worked, and she has been a customer ever since.

Sczepanski worked in Midland until about 1966, when she decided to strike out on her own.

“She told me quietly that she was starting her own shop,” Ward said. “I followed her out here.”

Sczepanski said when the house was built, the beauty shop was part of the design plan.

These days, Ward makes the time to visit the Auburn shop once a week.

“I come every week. Most women do if they don’t do it themselves,” Ward said of her visits. “I come for an hour, but sometimes it goes longer if we keep talking.”

Ward just turned 90, and she said her car recently had a birthday as well.

“My car just turned 21,” Ward said, and she still drives.

Sczepanski works five days a week, and sometimes on Saturday. When asked why she hasn’t retired, her answer was quick and to the point.

“What would I do if I retired? Watch the grass grow?” she asked. For the record, Sczepanski cuts her own grass and shovels her own snow.

When asked how many customers she has currently, Sczepanski smiled.

“I have plenty to keep me busy,” she said. The shop takes clients on an appointment-only basis.

One sad reality of having such a long running business is the loss of customers over the years.

“When I think about all the people that have come through here that have passed. Wow, it’s really something,” Sczepanski said.

Ward agreed. She said as of late, their conversations often drift toward customers that have passed away.

“Do you remember so and so,” Ward said to Sczepanski. “Many of her customers have passed.”

As for her business model, Sczepanski said she does her best to keep her prices competitive and her customers happy.

“I remember when I started, I used to get $3 for a shampoo and set and $2.25 for a haircut,” she said. “It costs a bit more than that now. But the prices have stayed reasonable.”

“Oh, yes. I think her prices are more than fair,” Ward said.

As for Ward’s hairstyle, she said her stylist liked to try different things over the years.

“She changes it just a little as it goes along,” Ward said.

The two women have become friends.

“We never had a fight,” Sczepanski said of her relationship with Ward. “Helen is always agreeable.”

“I never dreamed of having the same hair dresser for so long,” Ward said. “I told her over and over again she should write a book. The stories she could tell.”

Sczepanski did make an exception to the “ladies only” policy at the shop.

“Betty used to style my husband’s Santa Claus beard and hair,” Ward said, laughing. Her late husband, Robert Ward, often played Santa for the community center in Midland, and Sczepanski groomed the artificial beard and wig for the costume.

When asked who styles her hair, Sczepanski smiled.

“You’re looking at her,” she said. “I always have. When I worked in one shop, we used to take turns doing each other’s hair. If they didn’t have time, you did it yourself.”

With more than 50 years of experience, Sczepanski said she has no plans of changing her routine anytime soon.

“I like it all,” Sczepanski said of her work. “I like doing it - the visiting, the communication.”

Sczepanski looked at the ceiling, thinking, when asked why she thinks her customers have stayed so true to her.

“Maybe I’m not that good. Maybe my customers just get buzzed up from the hair spray,” she said with a laugh.


Information from: Midland Daily News, https://www.ourmidland.com

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