Allyn’s life in Culver business informs two decades of Michelle’s Headquarters

By: 
Jeff Kenney
Citizen editor

-- MICHELLE'S HEADQUARTERS will celebrate its 20th year in business on Friday, Dec. 4 with an open house from 5 to 8 p.m. coinciding with Culver's Holiday Hop. Champagne and hors d'oeuvres will be available along with gift basket and 20 percent discount gift certificate door prizes. The event will also bid longtime employee Susan Elizondo farewell and welcome new staff member Angie Maroules. The public is invited. --

Michelle Allyn has spent the past 20 years (as of this week) in business in Culver, which for her means a good deal more than simply performing a service for monies rendered. Instead, it means serving the community by way of endeavors ranging from Culver Community High School's after-prom event to various Culver Chamber of Commerce endeavors (most actively, in recent years, the Culver Wine Fair), to helping form the Culver Community Youth Center, which evolved into today's Culver Boys & Girls Club.

It also means customers at her salon, Michelle's Headquarter (at 114 N Main Street), form a kind of extended family whose joys and trials may be shared as Allyn and staff wash, trim, or color their hair.

Allyn comes by it honestly. She grew up from childhood onward being part of a similar approach alongside fellow Tusing family members operating Mr. T's pharmacy, which began in the 1960s in Culver's downtown and continued into the 1990s at its second location at Academy Road.

"All the (Tusing) kids helped out on the schedule (at Mr. T's) whether we liked it or not," Allyn recalls of her childhood drug store days. "I got a sense of business and learned customer service from him (Allyn's father, the late Ron Tusing). I still hear his voice in my head in different situations."

Allyn followed in the footsteps of a father who was active in Culver's Chamber as well as the now-defunct Jaycees.

"When I first opened, there was no question I would join the Chamber; I've been a member from the very beginning," she says.
If Allyn's business acumen developed early on, so did her interest in caring for people's hair needs, which developed while she was in high school.

Rather than the more expected path of studying cosmetology, Allyn instead chose to attend the National Barber College in downtown Indianapolis.

That decision came largely as a result of conversations with pharmacy customers who suggested she could make more money barbering, and nowadays the associated license, says Allyn, is more unisex than ever.

"When you go to barber school," she explains, "all you do is cut hair. If you want the extra perms or coloring or whatever extras you get those by chance if they're doing a demonstration. Cosmetology schooling is based on so many hours cutting but also so many doing skin care and (related work). I started (barber school) on a Saturday and was cutting hair on Tuesday!"

BEGINNING THE JOURNEY

Upon her return to Culver, she began a productive period of work in hair cutting for Rod Caudill.

"I have said to many people that I could not have had the success I have without his influence and having worked with him," she says. "He was a huge part of my professional development, and my mentor."

Allyn worked with Caudill, who operated the Debutante salon at the building just north of her present salon (today's Norcen Insurance), which she describes as "teeny tiny" in terms of space.

Caudill's mentee, however, soon moved on. Michelle married John Allyn in 1983, spending the next 12 years at his side as he was transferred from one locale to another during his service in the US Navy.

"I just always knew when we came back home I would open a salon," says Michelle, and indeed, two months after the couple returned to Culver in September, 1995, Michelle's Headquarters was born (their three children, now all grown up and moved away, were also born along the way).

When Michelle's Headquarters opened its doors, there were a number of similar offerings in Culver. Besides the longstanding Verl the Barber, down the street on North Main, there was Silhouette a few blocks north, but also Hair Kare on Lake Shore Drive, Making Waves, and several in-home salons. Today, no doubt partly relating to the decrease in Culver's year-round populace, only Silhouette remains.

Michelle's began in the same building at which Allyn had served under Caudill (though the salon entrance in those days was around the corner on Washington Street), though she soon moved to 202 N Main (today's Family Vision Clinic), on the next block north, for another year or two.

Bob Nowalk had been a client of Allyn's during the 202 N. Main days and in August of 1997 he approached her with an offer of leasing the front part of 114 N. Main (which had more recently been the Parlor arcade), which Nowalk had just purchased.

She accepted, of course, and the renovated space (which had been built in the 1930s as a Ben Franklin's dime store) has continued as Michelle's Headquarters to this day.

"I love being on Main Street, having grown up on this street," she says (a fact which is true not just in a business context but also given that her childhood home was just two blocks north of downtown as well).

For around the first decade of her solo career, Allyn was the sole employee of Michelle's, but has had a few people working with her since, including most recently Susan Elizondo. The latter is transitioning into retirement after five and a half years at Michelle's, with Angie Maroules (whose family operates Max Motors on West Jefferson Street) moving in to fill the post.

"I don't do any (hair) coloring," Allyn notes. "I chose not to learn that...so Susan handled all the coloring and Angie will do that, but will do haircuts as well."

CHANGES AND MEMORIES

Of course Allyn has seen a variety of hairstyles come and go through the years ("At this stage," she says, "it's the really short, pixie-style women's haircuts, and a little bit of everything."), though she points out style changes aren't as dramatic in Culver as they might be in larger cities. She attends the annual International Chicago Hair Show each year to get a taste of new and trending styles, colors, products, and gadgets.

She's also seen an upswing in male customers, not surprisingly.

"Before we moved back (to Culver), I had worked in an old barber shop in Ohio and there were farmers there who had never had women cut their hair. But that doesn't seem to really be the case here. I think growing up here helped my business, too. People already knew who I was coming in, and it just made it real easy. I've always had a mix."

There have been some memorable moments along the way at Michelle's Headquarters. One client became engaged while getting a perm in the salon's chair ("That was exciting!" says Allyn).

"I even had one client go into early labor while sitting here! That was a little scary."

Another unusual memory relates to former Culver Academies faculty member, the late Will Strow, who had retired from the school by then.

"He would come in once a week and get his hair washed and we were chatting about his family and he was talking about his grandsons and what they're doing," Allyn recalls. "He said one was trying to make it big in a rock and roll band. It turned out it was (best-selling rock group) Matchbox 20! He had not a clue. Before he left here -- it was when they were really breaking out -- one of their songs came on the radio. I said, 'There's your grandson now! I think they're already big.'"

Allyn also remembers caring for the hair of well-known clients like the Steinbrenner children in earlier years as well.

Another gratifying endeavor for Allyn was Hello Gorgeous! The national non-profit effort seeks to pamper women fighting cancer by way of a full salon experience, and Michelle's Headquarters participated in the program for three years (as Elizondo transitioned out, that endeavor had to be scaled back).

"It is a wonderful thing," says Allyn of Hello Gorgeous! "It was a wonderful experience to be part of that."

One of her proudest moments, says Allyn, was being named Businessperson of the Year by Culver's Chamber of Commerce in 2011.

It's also hard to forget the day her sister and a couple of girlfriends hung 40 bras outside the shop to mark Allyn's 40th birthday (along with signage declaring, "We support you!").

"One thing I would like to say to my clients is how much I appreciate them and how much they mean to me. They're like my family, really. Especially after 20 years you become a monthly part of their lives, you hear their family situations.

"There's just lots of sharing," she adds. "Our policy in here is, what's said in here stays in here!"

"Basically my 20 years, from pictures in here of my kids and my trips -- my life has played out on Main Street here."

And in that sense, Michelle Allyn is bringing a family legacy full circle.

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