Remembering the magic of Leon’s, a business built on kindness and caring
When you think of kindness, caring, love, happiness, joy, life’s challenges, physical limitations, caregivers, surviving, resilience, walkers, canes, white hair, beauty, laughter, humor and celebrations, one may not necessarily think of a hair salon.
Yet this is what characterized Leon’s Hair Design in Riviera Village in Redondo Beach, which closed on Feb. 28, 2023. Although younger folks, both men and women frequented Leon’s, the majority of clients were older women who had been going to the salon anywhere from 10-50 years. They aged in place at Leon’s.
Based on my visits for the past 30 years, here are some observations and some history. Leon began his career in hair styling as soon as he got out of the navy, and he started his salon in the early ’60s with his wife Rita, who recently passed away. That was well before Trader Joe’s was across the street. At age 94, Leon closed the salon because of the financial burden caused by COVID-19.
Remembering Leon’s Hair Design in Riviera Village in Redondo Beach, which closed on Feb. 28, 2023. (Photo by Helen Dennis)
The salon was more than a place for hair and nails. It was a place that felt like family; all clients were part of it. So, what makes a business environment feel like a family enclave? The biggest reasons are the attitudes and behaviors of the owners and their team. For example, Leon and Rita always wanted to know about you, your children, grandchildren and other family members. They wanted to know about you: “How are you doing?” “Are you well?” “Have you taken any recent trips?” They were interested in anything you had to say. When Leon and Rita spoke to you, it was as though no one else was in the room. They listened intently letting you know that you mattered.
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Leon’s has been compared to the television show “Cheers” where everyone knows your name. As one stylist commented, “We care for everyone who comes in that front door. When people leave here, they feel so much better; they are happy.” And I might add, they also feel more beautiful … or handsome.
Leon created a model for what we currently refer to as DEI, which stands for diversity, equity and inclusion. He nailed that subject long before DEI became an acronym. Stylists and manicurists were of Buddhist, Hindu, Catholic, Jewish and Protestant faiths; they were Black, Asian, Latino and Caucasian. The salon was inclusive without policies or seminars.
As a client, you were not served Perrier or coconut water. What you could expectwas a pot of hot coffee with some sweets or bagels and an occasional chocolate babka from Trader Joe’s. Then there was the holiday homemade cookies and eggnog that were shared with adjacent shop owners.
The salon meant a great deal to its clients. “I looked forward to my Saturday morning appointment; it was like a party where I saw all of my friends. It was a happy time,” commented a woman who was a client for 50 years.
Stylists also had positive sentiments.
It made me happy to make my clients happy.”
“If we had 10-15 Leons in this world, there would be no wars.
“Working at Leon’s has been the best experience and I am super-sad it has come to an end.”
“I am so fortunate that I am 100 percent accepted as I am.”
“Some clients came feeling depressed and left with feelings of hope.”
“I love this place; it’s been an honor and privilege to work here.”
This salon played a special role with its older clientele; many were widowed and lived alone. These older clients could always count on a human and caring connection and being touched through a hair wash or manicure and often with a big hug. As older adults often are isolated, these contacts and connections were not only enjoyable but also important to their overall well-being. For many, the visit to Leon’s may have been the only outing for the week or even the month. The oldest client was 101 years old.
Some current business literature focuses on the importance of employers showing care and concern for their employees, as well as how to accomplish that and its positive impact on productivity. Leon’s also nailed that. He knew about the importance of employee retention; he cared for his team and they knew it. Stylists and manicurists worked for him from five to 54 years, with most working there 20-35 years.
The human value of caring cannot be mandated by policy or legislation; it comes from within. Perhaps if we all committed to being our very best – to be generous, kind and loving – our society would move up a notch as a large, compassionate, inclusive and caring community.
I am convinced that the years of consistent visits added to the successful or optimal aging for the older clientele. Thank you, Leon, for all that you and your team have done and for what you have taught us.
Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity