by Elizabeth Coady
Only a few hours were left before the doors permanently closed at Sherlocks Salon in Chestnut Hill after 40 years in operation, and though there was an occasional damp eye, Saturday afternoon’s send-off was more a celebration of legacy than the mourning of loss.
Kathleen Wallace, the salon’s former owner and founder, was there both in spirit and physically – her lover-turned-husband of 40 years, musician and singer “Big John” Wallace, brought her ashes stored in a wooden urn tucked inside a nylon carrying case.
Kathleen, a Germantown native who died two years ago this week of lung cancer at the age of 70, was beloved by the 30-plus family members, friends, employees and clients who came to note the salon’s closing. Collectively they described her as kind, funny, generous, loving and fearless.
“I didn’t expect to be so verklempt,’’ said Stephanie Kravitz, a spunky stylist who has worked at Sherlocks for 33 of its 40 years, and who several times Saturday had to choke back tears while thinking of her former boss and the salon’s demise.
“I feel like the luckiest person in the world to have [had] a boss that was my best friend, too,’’ said Kravitz, 66. “No one could ask for more. She never nickel-and-dimed us, and she let us have poetic license.”
“She’s the best thing to happen to me,’’ said John, 75, who sang and played guitar with folk rock musician Harry Chapin for 10 years before the performer’s death in a 1981 car accident. “To know her was to love her. Her spirit, her sense of humor, her fearlessness – everything! She was just a phenomenal human being.
“Kathleen treated everybody the same, whether you were a king or whether you were laying in the gutter,’’ he said.
Kathleen, a former Miss Willow Grove with striking blue-gray eyes, launched the salon in November 1978 and relocated twice before settling at 15 W. Highland Ave. 23 years ago. John, a performer with his own Wikipedia page noting his “remarkable vocal range,’’ met Kathleen when he came in for a haircut 41 years ago; he left with her phone number and a life companion.
“If it hadn’t been that I needed a haircut, I probably would have never met her,’’ he said. “My life would have been completely different.’’
“My mother was the one who brought us all to Chestnut Hill,’’ said Charlene McNamara, 54, Kathleen’s daughter and a radio grapher at Chestnut Hill Hospital. “It was her dream to open a salon in Chestnut Hill.’’ Her mother opened her first location, in a spot across from the Chestnut Hill Hotel, with a $1,000 loan from her mother, she said.
Kathleen’s death left the salon without its anchor and a loss of clientele, leading John to convert to a month-to-month lease agreement. His decision to close was prompted by the building’s owner finding another long-term tenant. Kravitz said the move was “a surprise, but not a shock.’’
“I try to be like Mary Poppins and see the good in it,’’ said Kravitz, who is moving to the Avante Apre salon on Bethlehem Pike in Flourtown. “And I will miss this little haven of Chestnut Hill.”
Her colleague Michael Hawkins, 63, a native and long-time stylist from Chestnut Hill, will resume his career at Second Looks in Lafayette Hill.
McNamara, who worked at the salon as a teenager, said she had mixed feelings about its closings but added,“It is time; We all know that.’’
Her sister, Jennifer Leadbeater, 56, agreed.
“Not only was she my mom and my hairdresser, she was also my best friend,’’ said Leadbeater, whose three daughters and two granddaughters were at the party. She had also worked at as a shampoo girl and receptionist at the salon.
“I will always remember all the great memories with her at the happening salon on the hill. I got to see my mom grow such a successful salon and be a part of the many memories there.’’
She added: “Sherlocks wasn’t the same without my mom there.’’
McNamara said she didn’t think it was an accident that the salon’s last day was on Groundhog Day, an inordinary day that her mother had sentimental attachment to because she used to meet her brothers on a beach in Florida to note the day.
“My mother had an amazing sense of humor,’’ said McNamara, mom to a 20-year-old son. “So I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’re closing on Groundhog’s Day. I think there’s some divine intervention.’’
Saturday afternoon, friends, family and former clients crowded into the salon to share lunch, cake and memories. Accompanied by Steve Chapin on the keyboards, John belted out the Southern standard Old Man Riverand as well as a Harry Chapin song, “Mr. Tanner,” bringing tears to several in the crowd.
“I will tell you from my heart that this neighborhood is losing … a foundation, a really good soul,’’ said Ellis Roberts, 62, an antiques car parts dealer who has been friends with the Wallaces for 40 years. “These are the nicest people you’ll ever meet.’’