The Scissor Mill turning 25Published 9:49am Tuesday, December 1, 2009
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
To say the Scissor Mill Salon and Day Spa tucked next to Zeke’s at 111 S. Front St. sprang from humble beginnings a quarter century ago is an understatement.
Julie Fisher-Fryman’s multi-faceted business, which now fills two floors, was created out of what had been storage for the block-long Fair department store.
“There wasn’t even a storefront,” she said Monday. “No windows, nothing.”
In the early days, the back of her shop still contained Ron Shapero’s office for The Fair, so all seven chairs were toward the front.
Dowagiac “is a great little city,” she said. “You make of it what you want. There’s opportunity here if you can foresee it and have realistic expectations. They muster up enough money to open a business, then it’s feast or famine. I’m no Einstein, but I’m a hard worker and I’m dedicated. I’ve been here many a time at 10 o’clock at night, ordering pizza with my client, because I’m still here behind the chair. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do” to survive supply and demand with a small business. “We’re closed Sundays and Mondays to refresh our staff because we work Saturdays.”
“I can’t do the hours I used to anymore, but when I first opened, it was seven days a week until 10 or 11 at night sometimes,” Fisher-Fryman said. “I didn’t take vacations for years. You put everything back in. I usually have a staff of five to seven,” including one with 18 years and another with 17 years.
“I think there were three of us when we opened,” she said. “I knew I would open in Dowagiac because this is where I’m from, this is where I grew up. My roots are in Dowagiac. I looked at a couple of locations and decided downtown was where I wanted to be,” adjacent to the Little Red Shoe House.
Tuesday hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., but they book until 8. Wednesdays, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“The staff is really good about adjusting their timeframes,” she said, stroking the “mascot,” Baxter.
“My staff makes my job easy and fun. I look forward to coming to work. We laugh all day. I’ve been very blessed to choose what I knew I wanted to go into and be successful at it and still love it 30 years later. We don’t have to struggle or do something we hate to put a meal on the table. It’s hard work, don’t get me wrong. It’s backbreaking work, but I feel very fortunate that I knew what I wanted to do and have been able to be very successful at it and still love it. So many flounder around without figuring out what they want to do in life and never get any joy out of doing what they’re doing.”
The last day of November Fisher-Fryman is looking forward to the impending expansion of her pedicure area.
“We had a single unit and now we have a double area with two tubs and two more manicure tables,” she said.
“We’ve always had a men’s area.” Her shop features Sebastian products.
Thanks to being able to start her 1,500-hour cosmetology licensing training at Sister Lakes Beauty School while still at Union High School, she graduated from both at the same time.
“I worked at two different salons before I decided this was what I wanted to do the rest of my life,” said Fisher-Fryman, who actually knew since she was a girl.
“Once I got past the go-go girl and Barbie doll stage,” she said. “I was 9 or 10, but I don’t know where it came from. Nobody in my family does hair. Mr. (Robert) Wagel (chairman, of the Cass County Board of Commissioners and a retired DUHS guidance counselor) always tells me I was the first student he sent over” to study at Sister Lakes Beauty Academy.
Julie has always been an entrepreneurial sort.
“My husband (Jim, who has a recycling business) and I have always been aggressive that way,” she said.
“He’s awesomely supportive. That and my great staff are probably 90 percent of my success. My husband gets as excited about things as I do and pushes me on. We’ve been together 26 years and married since ’87.”
The name Scissor Mill came courtesy of the trucking company Jim owned at the time.
The couple were on the road, with Julie brainstorming ideas for what to call her business.
“Everything we passed I tried to relate to ‘scissor,’ ‘salon’ or ‘hair.’ We passed a windmill. I said, ‘Scissor Mill,’ and my husband liked it. It was kind of country when the salon first started,” with oak and cherry paneling “from my dad’s back 40 on the farm where I grew up.”
“Originally, it was just hair and nails,” Fisher-Fryman said. “Tanning, I just put the three units in about three or four years ago. I only had one unit when I first put tanning in probably 10 years ago. We got voted Best Tanning Salon this year, so that was kind of cool.”
“Six or seven years ago” she added spa services such as body wraps, facials and massage therapy, which led to the development of three rooms on the upper level.
“I’ve seen a lot come and go being in this same location for 25 years,” she muses. “I was in business for five years or so before they did the streetscape. We only had an alley out back,” which because of more plentiful parking in the rear, today is a busy entrance to rival the front door.
One Memorial Day weekend they decided to paint everything white.
“We were not ready to open on Tuesday,” she giggles. “We looked like little raccoons. We were all sprayed white, with our eyelashes out to here, all white. That was a little more than we needed to take on in a weekend, but we dug in and got it done. I have a lot of great memories here.”
Born in Elkhart, Ind., Fisher-Fryman has lived in Dowagiac since second grade.
“My dad was from Edwardsburg and my mother was from Elkhart,” she said. “He was a dairy farmer. He found a little farm about five miles outside of town and decided to buy it. I had one sister 2 1/2 years older that I lost last year to cancer. We lost my mom when we were little, so it was just me, my sister and my dad,” who she lost to a heart attack within weeks of her sister.
“We had a lot of family tragedy last year,” she said. “There were four or five deaths in six weeks. It was a hard year. And then the economy.”
In weathering a recession, “We’re really fortunate that we’re well-established. New businesses, new salons, I would fear for,” she said. “My husband and I are both in businesses that are strong in bad economies. People aren’t out buying big-ticket items like houses and cars, but when they get depressed and want to feel better about themselves, they’ll get a spa service or a hair coloring. Our spa services have taken a little hit, but hair always grows.”
Away from work, Fisher-Fryman likes to let her own hair down showing horses.
“That’s my passion,” she said. “I have a quarterhorse mare that I’m showing right now. I have shown on the Appaloosa circuit regionally and nationally for 18 or 19 years. My husband trudged me around the nation. Now I stay close to home and do some fun stuff. I was my dad’s tomboy, driving tractors and riding dirt bikes. I didn’t get girlie until later. I didn’t cut my Barbie’s hair, and my sister didn’t like her hair being picked at, so I’d put rollers in my poor dad’s hair.”