ALPHARETTA, Ga. — On a recent Wednesday, Pearl Bivins placed rollers in her customer’s hair and sent her to one of the hooded hairdryers at the Alpharetta Beauty Shop.
The customer then picked up a National Enquirer as she waited for her hair to curl.
For 44 years, Bivins, 70, and her older sister, Jean Collett, 71, have been the go-to place for their loyal customers.
“We’ve been doing hair together for 44 years,” Bivins said, laughing. “So we’re old.”
Eight bright-blue hairdryer chairs line the right wall across from two older barber chairs in the building on Milton Avenue that has housed Bivins’ and Collett’s business for the past 26 years. Their shop serves as a pocket of Alpharetta’s history.
The two Alpharetta-native sisters grew up in the 1940s and ‘50s — back when the city consisted of one high school and two traffic lights. They attended beauty school a couple nights a week in 1968. But it was too much keeping a family, job and school.
“We never thought of becoming hairdressers,” Collett said. “I mean, not at all.”
But the two quit their work as service girls for the Lovable manufacturing business and chose to go to beauty school full-time. They cut hair at two other shops on Main Street in Alpharetta for 18 years before opening their own in 1986. They were the only business on Milton Avenue then, Collett said.
As Alpharetta continues to grow, the beauty shop remains like a memory beacon for the city, a place that hasn’t changed.
“I’ve got three customers that I know I’ve been doing for 44 years,” Collett said. “I got two that have come in every week for 44 years. And we’ve been doing the same thing: Shampooing and rolling under the dryer to most every customer.”
The biggest opponent for the beauty shop is age.
“We’ve lost a lot of customers because they’ve passed away,” Bivins said. “These people who have grown older have been with us for years. They’re growing older, and we’re growing older.”
The younger generation has proven to be a struggle as well.
“We do more older people who get their hair teased,” Collett said. “These young people don’t. They just wash and blow and go. We do the combs and the shampoo sets. But lots of people now don’t even have a dryer in their beauty salon.”
But their customer base has been consistent.
“I have this 90-year-old lady,” Collett said, laughing. “She’s been married three times. She’s buried three husbands, and she’s hunting No. 4.”
Another lady comes from Dunwoody at 5:30 a.m. each Friday to have Collett do her hair.
“She used to say she liked to come early because we used to have people smoke in here, and she didn’t want to be around it,” Collett said. “Nowadays, we don’t have any smokers, but she still comes early, and I do, too.”
The sisters’ loyalty to their city and to their customers contributes to the longevity of the business.
“Well, we’re honest,” Collett said. “I think that’s one reason we’ve managed to stay. And I’m not going to do anything to anybody’s hair that I will not do to my own. I’m not doing those crazy cuts that just chop the hair off or coloring it orange.”
But Alpharetta’s continuous growth has had some negative effects on the local beauty shop on Milton Avenue. The weekend road closures have proven to be tolling for the sisters because weekends are their busiest time.
“Everybody has to look good for the weekend, got to look good for church,” Collett said. “So many families have to work and they can’t get here any other day besides Saturday, and there’s no way to bring them in.”
But, after 26 years of business, that holdup doesn’t stifle the sisters’ commerce.
“You pick up customers all the time,” Collett said. “You lose some along the way, too. I had a 99-year-old, who died in September, so, you know, you do lose a few.
“This is a business you’re not going to get rich in unless you do the lowlights and highlights like this younger generation gets,” she added. “But it will get you a living.”