Photo by Sharon J. Filkins
Lois Byrne, owner of Lady J’s Salon in Worth, hold up her memory book that captures images of her business from the past 50 years.
Lady J’s Salon, 6633 W. 111th St., Worth, celebrated its 50th year in business on Monday, and what a celebration it was. It was standing room only as more than 80 people gathered in the salon for a surprise open house to honor owner Lois Kluck Byrne.
The unsuspecting Byrne arrived in the company of one of her employees, Linda Kara, who used the pretext of stopping by the salon, which is closed on Mondays, to pick up something. Byrne thought they were just going to a quiet dinner to celebrate the anniversary.
She was greeted by a lifetime of customers, friends, family and elected officials. The scene was reminiscent of the movie “Steel Magnolia’s” in which Sally Field and Dolly Parton starred as owners of a small town beauty shop that was the cultural and social center of the town.
A resident of Worth since the age of 5, Byrne, 68, has raised six children, two of her own and six of her brother’s children. She has 22 grandchildren and two great grandchildren. She became a widow in 1997 but continued her salon business.
“Our salon has had three locations, but always in Worth,” she said. The two previous locations were within three blocks of the current site, where she has been for 28 years.
Loyalty of her customers was evident as many of those attending have been her clients for the entire 50 years she has been in business. It is a generational thing as the children and grandchildren of her early clients are now customers.
Debbie Muldowney, 49, said her mother, Jean Hummel, brought her to Lady J’s in her stroller to get her very first haircut. “The baby curls went into my baby book,” she said. Muldowney said her mother still comes to the salon.
Also on hand were Ashley Szeszychi, 39, and her mother, Sharon DeGenova. Szeszychi.
“My mother brought me here as a baby, and we are both still clients, as well as my grandmother, Kay DeGenova, who has been a client for 50 years,” said Szeszychi.
Worth Mayor Mary Werner and Village Clerk Bonnie Price were in attendance and presented a proclamation to Byrne acknowledging her dedication and commitment to the Worth business community.
“You have been a good friend to the Village of Worth and our business community. We are happy to congratulate you on this 50th anniversary,” said Werner.”
Byrne opened Lady J’s on Sept. 12, 1966. One of her early certifications as a registered beauty culturist was issued by Gov. Otto Kerner in 1967. Subsequent certifications during the 50 years of business were issued by former governors Sam Shapiro and Richard Ogilvie.
The salon, named after a previous owner, Josephine Gentile, currently has six hairdressers, in addition to Byrne and her sister, Julia Vales.
Two longtime employees, Adrianne Lajeunesse, who has been with Byrne for 46 years, and Marlene Black, who has logged 17 years at the salon reminisced about happy times at the salon.
“Lady J’s is not a typical beauty shop,” said Black. “We are the last of the last hairdressers, the last of an era. Today’s shops are all about blow drys, haircuts and curling irons. There are no more rollers, curlers, perms and hair dryers. But Lady J’s is different.”
The salon has six stations and the walls are lined with hair dryers. “You don’t see hair dryers like that in today’s salons,” Black said.
She added that her clients come to spend the day.
“They bring their lunch and socialize with each other, catching up on kids, grandkids, family, etc. I often have to remind them my chair is empty and I am ready to do their comb out,” Black said, laughing.
Lajeunesse agreed that the hair industry has changed.
“I guess we are the dinosaurs of the industry, we still do perms for our customers. But that is what many of them want and they have been coming here for so many years. It is a real family atmosphere here,” she said.
Lajeunesse recalled one time that the power had gone out in the shop and they resorted to completing a perm on a client, by the light of a car’s headlights pulled up to the front window of the salon. “We have had some wonderful times here, many warm memories,” she said.
Byrne was happily surprised with the open house and was thrilled with the turnout of so many friends and family.
Asked about her outlook on life and reaching this milestone, Byrne said, “Things happen in life and you learn to just go with the flow.”
Questioned about her other interests or hobbies, she laughed. “My hobbies have definitely become outgrown. My interests now, with all these grandchildren, are primarily kids and my family.” She has cut back to working three days at the salon.
As for her future plans, she smiled and said, “I am just going with the flow.”