Entering into A Cut Above Hair Salon in downtown Cotati, it feels like walking into someone’s cozy living room, with comfy furniture, a soft rug, a Fiscus tree in a corner and hanging plants throughout the salon. Hanging prominently in the salon is a sign saying “Celebrating 40 Years of ‘Lowering Ears and Wielding Shears,’” with the youthful pictures of Martha Louvar and Heidi Jones, the two owners of A Cut Above. Many Cotatians may not realize that these two women have owned this salon for 42 years.
Both Louvar and Jones started their career in cosmetology working for a barbershop that used to be located next to their current salon (now Cotati Coffee Company). After they had been working there for several years, the owner decided to sell the business in 1977. He gave the two young women first rights to purchase it, but at an exorbitant cost.
“In the same week that he had called to say he was selling the business, the woman who owned this place, which was a beauty salon, saw us in the hall as we were discussing what we should do, and told us she was thinking of selling her business,” says Jones. “She wondered if one of us, or both, was interested in buying it. She wanted a quarter of the cost of what the barber shop owner wanted.”
The rest is history. Over four decades later, Louvar and Jones still own the salon. Not long before this time it was still customary for men to exclusively visit barber shops, and women to visit salons. But from the beginning, the women decided to make the salon unisex, and the late ‘70s was a perfect time to do so, with men’s hair styles at the time being longer.
“We wanted to make it unisex because that era was when hair styling was crossing over,” says Louvar. “Men didn’t just go to a barber shop and women didn’t just go to a beauty salon. Men didn’t only cut men’s hair and women didn’t only do women’s hair. Many men were afraid of going to barber shops in fear that their hair would be cut too short.”
The women have obviously seen many changes since they started the business, but they have retained some clients for literally decades and now get customers coming from all over the Bay Area, as far north as Lake County, as well as from Napa, San Francisco, the East Bay, and Marin. Many of those became customers while living in or around Cotati and could not bear to switch after moving further away. Some clients are children of former (or current) clients. Over the years the two women have forged friendships that have spanned generations.
“A Cut Above has been extremely good to us,” says Jones. “I feel extremely grateful to have such a successful business. It’s been fulfilling. I’ve made a lot of friends and am still able to enjoy the creative process.”
Indeed, both women cite the social and relationship aspect of their careers as the best part of their work.
“We both like exchanging our thoughts with other people and listening to them,” says Louvar. “For me, the social part of it, the exchange of ideas, and the therapeutic part [is my favorite]. I feel like sometimes I help people but they help me too, talking things out…whatever we’re going through in our lives.”
Interestingly, many clients, especially early on, came from the music industry. Martha used to sing in a band and both husbands of the women worked in the music business – one as a drummer and the other owned a sound recording company.
“We knew a lot of people who were in the rock n’ roll business and had long hair that we styled for the music business,” says Jones. “Most of them don’t have hair like that today!”
Both women enjoy their work so much they have not thought of retiring yet, although both are now past retirement age.
“We both keep doing it because we still enjoy it,” says Jones. “We’re going to see how things go. I would like to continue doing it as long as it makes sense. As long as I can still see well enough, stand long enough and remember what people want! I would miss this. I would miss the social connection. It’s not such an easy thing to walk away from, and at this point I’m not ready to do it.”