It was the heart of the era of weekly hairdresser appointments, because all that big hair – the beehives, the teased-up flips – required a lot of ongoing maintenance. Linda Chamberlain was 18, fresh out of high school in Bakersfield, a newly minted beauty school graduate. Sandy Gomes was a year older, a Fresno native ready to launch into her first job as a beautician.
On a late September day in 1964, Chamberlain and Gomes both reported for their first day of work at a new hair salon owned by Bill Hoshall in the Miracle Mart on Folsom Boulevard in College Greens. They wore white beautician uniforms and name tags. And they were nervous.
The Miracle Mart, an unsuccessful Raley’s venture, is long gone; so is that first, tiny salon. But the partnership of Gomes and Chamberlain has flourished: They still work together half a century later, with many of the same clients from those early days. By now, the two women know each other so well that they can finish each other’s sentences.
“We were the only salon out here at the time,” said Gomes, 69.
“So it was like we walked...” said Chamberlain, 68.
“...into a gold mine,” said Gomes, and Chamberlain nodded.
Hoshall, who still owns salons in Folsom and Roseville, remembers the two fondly as hardworking hairdressers with good personalities.
“They were not only artistic,” he said, “but they were dependable. They knew and understood customer service. The customer was always first with them.
“I’m proud of both of them. They were like my daughters.”
They are grandmothers now, as well as friends who can’t imagine not having their salon chairs right next to one another. The aches and pains of time nag at them – all those years on their feet, day after day. They’ve scaled back their schedules: Chamberlain, a heart-attack survivor who also has rheumatoid arthritis, works four days a week; Gomes, who cares for a small grandson at home in Lodi, works three. But they have no plans to retire.
“We’ve been there for each other,” said Gomes. “When she’s been sick and worried about her clients, we learned to step up for each other. When I’m gone, she takes over for me.
“We’ve been through a lot of hard things, but she’s such a positive person.”
Chamberlain moved away from Sacramento for several months in the late 1970s, when her husband briefly worked out of state. But as soon as she came back, she returned to work with Gomes. Together, they’ve moved from one salon to another in the College Greens area – including Gomes’ own STG Hair Designs, which she ran for almost 20 years – and now they’ve ended up at Licha’s House of Style in a strip of small stores not far from their original salon.
“It’s just our friendship,” said Chamberlain. “We’ve just always worked together. It didn’t seem right to work anywhere the other one didn’t work.”
And a lot of their clients didn’t want anyone else doing their hair.
“They have clients who have gone to them since they first started,” said Laurie Gibson, 82, who gets perms from Gomes and cuts from Chamberlain. “They’ve had people with them 40 and 50 years.
“Wherever the girls go, these women go, too. They have a following.”
Jo Ann Thomason, 79, has been Chamberlain’s client since the beginning. In the 1960s, she had a standing appointment every Friday afternoon. Now she goes every two weeks, alternating a haircut appointment with one to touch up her color.
“Linda fixes it like I’ve always worn it,” Thomason said. “She always knew just how I wanted my hair done. She’s like family.”
Over time, their professional world changed from roller sets and comb-outs to casual cuts and flat-ironed hair. The blow dryer, the big development of the 1970s, was a game changer for beauty salons. But Chamberlain and Gomes maintain a list of clients who want weekly wash-and-set appointments. One day not long ago, a half-dozen walkers and wheelchairs were lined up at the salon, Chamberlain said, while the bonnet hairdryers hummed.
“There’s more and more people we help to the car,” Gomes said. “You take care of them.”
“Like they’re your mamas,” said Chamberlain. “They know all about us, and we know all about them.”
But time takes its toll, reducing their roster of longtime clients. In a recent two-week span, three of Gomes’ clients died.
“When you work this long, it happens,” said Chamberlain.
Even with their reduced schedules, these co-workers of 50 years insist they’re never going to be apart.
“We’re going to be living in the same home together one day when our husbands are gone,” said Gomes.
“That’s what we’ve always said,” said Chamberlain.