Monica Edwards Bard took her evening gloves off, fluffed the hair of a client and explained that she has been cutting, coloring, curling and blow drying hair longer than any of her marriages has lasted.
To celebrate 25 years as the owner of the Hair Shoppe at 756 Dick Road in Cheektowaga, she decided it was her customers that she wanted to take out on a date.
"If I could do anything, this is what I would love to do," said Bard, who worked on hair in a narrow black dress, mink stole and sparkly silver heels on Wednesday in honor of the evening ahead.
She'd paid $1,500 to buy most of the seats in the Snyder cabaret theater with the Diva by Diva play that celebrates the quirks of women's lives with song, skits and poetry. About 60 of her clients, who'd been with her more than 20 years, said yes to Wednesday's invitation, taking up nearly the entire theater.
The treat is part of a monthlong celebration of coupon savings and spa treatment and lacrosse ticket give-aways that, by Bard's estimate, would cost thousands. Her March customer thank-yous, an investment in fun, have been part of how she's made her business successful all along.
"I want to golf. I want a convertible. I'll get that too. This is just a perk to share," said Bard who has a quick smile and an ease with conversation that she used to keep talk going on around her.
"I can hook you up with some booze or you can have orange juice, coffee, or tea. What's it going to be?" she said as one client walked in on the polished linoleum, just swept of hair and blue feathers fallen from the boas the stylists were wearing.
While Bard and her staff have been celebrating with different theme weeks -- the '80s, the sport-loving men in women's lives -- this was the crescendo week of the leading lady.
"I didn't think she'd do something like this," said Cecilia Fry with a neat blond coif, who had been getting her hair washed, permed and colored by Bard for 30 years. "Of course with Moni -- Moni's a party girl."
Fry smiled to think of the evening out that lay ahead. She and her daughter, both clients, were going together. Before she left she explained why she's been coming all these years: "Everytime I walk out, I look good."
Then a staffer gave her the pointy comb for popping one of the balloons by the cash register. She won $5 off on her $26 hairdo. "Boy," she said, "today must
be my lucky day."
The idea to pay back customers seemed obvious to Bard, 49, when she realized that for a quarter century she has looked forward to leaving her house in the morning to go to work.
"This is something that's really good in my life," she said.
At 24, she bought this salon from its owner when it was down the street in the basement of an insurance office. Now she has a staff of nine stylists and one masseuse working in a converted house with rooms for pedicures, massage and the old-fashioned dryers with the plastic bubble lids. Together the team brainstormed to plan the celebrations.
Christina Mayer, of Cheektowaga, had a slight smile as she waited for her turn as commotion went on around her. Bette Davis was looking glamorously diva in black and white, in "All about Eve," which played on the shop TV.
The day's celebrating embodied the good feel the place usually has. Until Mayer got to know its friendly, un-snobby staff, she got her hair cut twice a year. Now she's had so much fun going from natural blond to red with highlights that she comes in every six weeks.
"I've been to a million places," said Mayer, who would go to the play if she didn't have kids to take care of. "This gets it right every time."
When Janice Kaczmarczyk got the black and white play invitation with sparkle in the mail, she knew immediately that she would say yes. She has been coming to the salon from Depew since 1993 because Bard tries different styles. She also likes the stories. "There's always something going on here," she said as Bard set a neat row of curls along the top of her head.
This made the other stylists who were braiding and painting on color, reminisce about some of the better stories. There was the staffer who cut the hair of a player for the Buffalo Sabres and didn't care when he told her he was a professional. "I'm not that into hockey," she cooly replied to the amused amazement of everyone else.
For the customer who reacted with open disgust at the story that a staffer had found a prized fashion possession at the AmVets secondhand store, the crew collected I-love-AmVets stickers and taped them all over her car -- with temporary tape.
Another client turned 90 and the salon had a surprise party with cake, party hats and flowers. "She's coming tonight I hope," said Bard. "She was one of my very first clients."
The flood of memories and the stories that have stayed with her all these years were the biggest surprise that came in planning this anniversary month.
As her own life evolved to four children and a third marriage to the husband she has now, she was grateful that she got to watch her clients change too. She thought of the metamorphosis of one little girl with glasses who became a successful pharmacist and married mother who she still knows.
"That's been almost overwhelming sometimes," said Bard. "I can still kind of picture her with Coke-bottle glasses."