For everyone who started fantasizing about retirement long before hitting the 30-year mark – meet Mary Cantrell. She has worked for 60 years and has no plans to retire.
Cantrell, a hair stylist at the Northlake Salon, has worked in the beauty business since she was 18. Back in those “good old days,” there weren’t as many ready-made products or handy appliances, but having your hair set on rollers cost a dime, and a shampoo and set was a whopping 50 cents. A permanent, which was much more of an ordeal than the ones available today, cost $2.50.
Inflation and improved products and equipment makes today’s salon visits more costly, but more enjoyable for most people.
“I was 16 when I started working on my beauty license,” Cantrell says. “My course was extensive – 1,000 hours of training. But I went to beauty school while I was still in high school because I wanted to be ready for a job as soon as I graduated.”
The beauty business has taken Cantrell from the one-room shop she opened in her hometown of Oakland City, Ind., to a salon in Chicago and finally to Dallas, where she has worked in several salons over the years. She owned a salon for 23 years in the Urbandale area of Southeast Dallas.
At Northlake, where she has worked nearly 18 years, Cantrell may be the most experienced person on the staff, but a few others also have impressive records.
Elizabeth Young, a shampoo technician, has been in the business about 35 years. So has salon owner Diana Kettle. Ruby Daniels, another shampoo technician, has been with the salon about 25 years. And hairdresser Linda Roesle has been in the business about 33 years and previously worked at Cantrell’s salon in Urbandale. Several others at the salon have more than 20 years of experience.
“It’s unusual for one salon to have so many people who have been in the business so long,” Kettle says. “But this has been an unusual shop since it opened in the 1960s, because it was one of the first salons in this area of Dallas.”
The long hours of standing and working with their hands usually takes its toll on salon workers pretty quickly, Cantrell says. But for someone who can stay in one place for awhile and build a solid customer base, there are rewards.
“I have some customers whose hair I’ve been styling for about 48 years,” Cantrell says. “I really enjoy being with people, and over the years, we’ve all become friends.”
Cantrell has cut her schedule back to half a day since last spring, when she underwent heart surgery. Plenty of customers ask for her by name when making appointments, even though there are fewer slots on her calendar.
“We come from the old school where you work to take care of your clients and what they need – the client comes first,” Kettle says of the long-term stylists.
“This is a service-oriented business, but some people have lost sight of that in recent years.”
Cantrell knows she could take it easy these days if she wanted to. She has a daughter in Lakewood and a son and granddaughter in Austin who she loves to spend time with.
But she’s convinced that working not only keeps her mentally sharp, but also physically strong. Last year, she could hardly wait to recover from surgery so she could get back to co-workers and customers.
“I’ll work for as long as I can because it’s good for me,” Cantrell says.