Sam Whittle had been a hair stylist for many years in the Bay Area before she and her husband, Leroy, moved to Grass Valley. Sam loved working with customers and had a keen interest in beauty supplies, but she was looking forward to a little time off after their move to Nevada County.
It didn’t last long.
Having lived here just a few short weeks, Sam wandered into what was then Belle Beauty Supply & Salon next to Raley’s. She walked out with a job.
Three years later she went to work for the now-defunct TLC Beauty Supply & Salon, another Grass Valley beauty supply store in the Brunswick Basin.
“The day she quit TLC, she just happened to drive by a dress shop near what is now CVS. It was closing and had a ‘for lease’ sign in the window,” said Leroy. “We went to see the landlord right way.”
In addition to spending her entire career in the salon and beauty supply business, Sam had always dreamed of having a wig shop.
“My mother, other family members and many friends have died from cancer,” she said. “I wanted a place that would excel in wigs, but I knew a wig shop wouldn’t stay in business on its own. I thought the combination of wigs, professional beauty supplies and a salon would be perfect. I told Leroy it was time to invest in me.”
She was right, said Leroy. Sam’s Beauty Supply & Salon has been profitable since day one, which was in November of 1996.
“Leroy should know,” said Sam with a laugh. “He’s the numbers guy.”
Not only that, the bulk of Leroy’s career had been managing a string of large Long’s Drug stores throughout Northern California. His background in customer service, remodeling, merchandising and human resources was extensive. He eventually retired from Long’s and began focusing his attention on his wife’s store.
In 1998, just two years after opening their first store, Belle Beauty Supply & Salon opted to relocate to Auburn. Sam and Leroy jumped at the chance to set up shop, Sam’s II, in the vacated space. They never looked back.
Today the two stores are going strong, said Sam, who has added a third partner to the business — her stepdaughter, Leroy’s daughter, Amy Hotchkiss.
“I’ve kind of backed away from the business the past couple of years,” said Sam. “I love Amy’s passion and her eagerness to learn — she knows so much more than I do now.”
While Amy oversees daily operations in the Sutton Way store, longtime employee and friend Stephanie Frey manages Sam’s II. Sam acknowledges that these two have contributed greatly to the success of her business.
Both locations are open seven days a week, and the Sam’s II salon is open Sundays — a rare occurrence in Nevada County.
Products in both shops include wigs, extensions, professional hair and nail care products, curlers, hair color and accessories and professional hair appliances, such as dryers and flat irons. Amy says she loves it when she gets to grill sales reps on their products.
“I love having access to the people who create the products. I like dorking out with the chemists,” she said. “I also love going to hair shows and learning all I can.”
Both stores also provide refills at a reduced price for some of their top brand shampoos and conditioners.
But Amy and other staffers say the most rewarding part of their jobs is when they get to step into the wig section.
“We have clients who come in terrified because they have been diagnosed with cancer. Understandably, some are very sad and shaken up,” said Amy. “But we spend as much time as someone needs — sometimes an hour — to educate them on their options. It’s so uplifting to see their faces brighten up — it’s like seeing a bride see herself in the mirror for the first time. Some want to wear the wig out the door that day.”
Leroy said it’s clear the staff members enjoy their jobs.
“There’s an aura about you when you’re having fun at your job,” he said. “Personal touch is everything.”
“Our passion is your hair — let us see what we can do for you,” she said.
“Whether it’s a cancer patient, a grandmother or a teen with pink hair, we don’t judge. I love helping people feel better about themselves. I get emotional because I love it so much. We want to make you the best possible you.”
To contact staff writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com or call 530-477-4203.