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Observing History: A very special visit


February 13, 2012 by wcobserver

When Leta Smith McGwire opened her little shop in the community of Winslow back in September of 1953, she didn’t really know what to expect. Although there were no other beauty shops in town at the time, this was still quite an undertaking for a young lady newly graduated from the Ft. Smith Beauty School. As a teen, Leta was already highly requested by many of the ladies in town to make “house calls” to give haircuts and fancy styles. On this cool January afternoon, I went to visit with Leta and one of her very special customers.

When I entered the tiny white-frame building, located next to what was her father’s store on the west side of Winslow, Leta was already in the process of giving a shampoo to Fleeta Clark. Fleeta had her daughter Tillie bring her out to see Leta because this is where she feels the most comfortable having her hair done.

There were two reasons that this was a special visit.  To begin with, Fleeta celebrated her 94th birthday on Feb. 4.  Even she is amazed that she has been so blessed to still be able to come see her favorite “hair Dresser.” The other reason that this visit was so special is because Fleeta was the very first customer at Leta’s newly opened beauty shop.

Because Leta and Fleeta’s daughter Muriel, went to Winslow High School together, she already knew Fleeta well and had gone to her home to style her hair on several occasions. When asked what Fleet’s request was on that first visit to her shop, Leta told me she gave her a permanent. The price was $3.50.

At that time, she charged 50 cents for haircuts and a set and style were seventy-five cents. Leta said that she always felt very fortunate that she was able to keep her prices down for her many customers because she had little overhead costs.

Fleeta would later tell me that the only time she didn’t go to Leta’s shop to have her hair done was when Leta was otherwise “busy” having her three children. Leta commented that the breaks were pretty short because she needed to get back into her shop to help with the family income.

After trimming and putting curlers in Fleets’s hair, Leta got her comfortably situated under the hair dryer.  Then she began to tell me some stories of growing up in Winslow and who in town had beauty shops.  There was the lady who would ride the bus to Winslow from Mountainburg to work in a shop in what is now the Winslow Mercantile building. When Leta was little, her mother would take her to a Mrs. Powers, who lived up the hill from the Smith’s store. She would schedule one appointment a day to give a permanent and charge $2.  The lady also had goats and if they started bleating and needed her attention, she would leave her customer sitting and go tend her goats.

Back then, the permanent hot wave machines were used. Leta used one in her shop for about the first three years that she was open for business. She has very graciously donated her wave machine to the Winslow Museum, where it is on display.

Time was drawing near for Fleet’s “comb-out” and style. It was very enjoyable listening to the ladies reminisce about all the times they had spent together in the shop. Soon it was time to go. Fleet’s thick, curly gray hair looked very beautiful. She was all set to start celebrating for yet another milestone in her life. — By Beverly Simpson



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