POR Ruby Stewart March 22, 2009

Palisade’s social salon

A glance out the window to see who’s pulling up to her home-based hair salon west of Palisade sets Ruby Stewart into motion.

She plops up three pillows for a petite client, makes sure the seat by the plug-in mug warmer plate is open for a coffee-drinker, then holds up a clear-plastic face shield and hair-sprays a finished style.

By 8:30 on a Friday morning there are two regulars rolled and under the dryers and a third in the pink styling chair. It’s like this 3 1/2 days a week, with Stewart’s hands a blur shampooing, clipping, coloring, rolling, perming, teasing and spraying.

“I’ve always been very fast,” Stewart said.

And attentive. With clients who count their weekly appointments in decades, Stewart knows every habit, every family member, every interest.

Women come and go, visit with each other and with Stewart, who’s mastered the art of conversing, backward, in front of a large mirror.

Talk weaves through whose husband did or didn’t go to the Legion meeting, where a slice of great banana-meringue pie could be had for lunch, the purported immune-strengthening properties of Vitamin D.

Pat Schmalz and Connee Sullivan stop by together. The gregarious retirees have a standing lunch date after their hair is done.

“The good thing with her,” Schmalz said of Stewart, “once you start coming, you’re just friends.”

Shirley Wesley trusts no one but Stewart with her locks. “Ruby understands my hair. I get really upset if she goes on vacation.”

Marge Taber explains her 35-year loyalty this way: “Because she’s good,” Taber said of Stewart. “She takes care of everybody.”

Stewart opened her salon in 1977, and many of her clients have been with her even longer, back when she worked with her mother-in-law, Zella Stewart, in her shop. A cut and set was $2.50 then. It’s $12 now.

Husband Gordon also is in the business. He’s had Gordon’s Barber Shop in Palisade since 1966. The couple just celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary.

Self-employment has its perks, such as the ability to coordinate schedules in order to work out together at Gold’s Gym and camp on Grand Mesa.

It also lacks a safety net. “If it wasn’t for the stock market taking all my money, I’d probably be thinking about retiring,” Stewart said.

Stewart’s first exposure to the business was watching her neighbor and future mother-in-law work in her salon, growing up.

When Stewart didn’t know what she wanted to do after high school, a school counselor in 1964 helped her get a scholarship to Hollywood Beauty College in Denver.

Stewart married her senior year, then left her small hometown for an eye-opening year in the Mile High City. Two-thousand classroom hours later, she was ready for her license, and for the real education.

“You learn more on the job,” Stewart said.

She likes to do haircuts and perms because she likes the fast and efficient scissor and rolling work. Despite the repetitive motion, she doesn’t have problems with her wrists and hands.

“As long as I wear my magnet bracelet, I’m OK,” Stewart said of the silver strands of magnetized beads.

She hated the bouffant era, with its barrel rollers and exhaustive back-combing.

“I spent hours on one person and I said ‘If that ever comes back, I’m outta here!’ ”

A few years ago she was asked to be an examiner for a Grand Junction beauty school and gained an appreciation for how much the industry has changed.

Students aren’t taught to do roller sets and tease anymore, Stewart said. When she was in school, she didn’t learn how to give pedicures or affix false eyelashes and nails.

She decided auditing wasn’t for her and that she’d stick with what she knows.

For someone whose business is hair care, her own routine is decidedly low maintenance.

Naturally wavy and a shimmering silver, Stewart’s hair requires only occasional trims. It falls in layers around her columbine-blue eyes.

“I don’t have time to mess with hair myself,” Stewart said.

The Stewarts stay busy with their family, going to a grandson’s concerts, and keeping in touch by phone with family in Maine and Oklahoma.

Son Jack Stewart retired from the Navy and returned to the Grand Valley. Daughter Julie Wentzel has lived her all her life.

The Stewarts have five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Active in her church, Church of the Rock, Stewart scrapbooks and hikes on her days off from clipping and curling.

“I’ve been very blessed in my life,” she said


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