By Anne AndlauerContributing Writer
From the outside, it looks like a typical tiny, red-brick house. Many pedestrians walking along Emerson Street might not notice the red lettering on the white-painted facade.
But dozens of Evanston residents know what the brick walls hold: a hair salon that has stood for more than 60 years.
Sue McNeil, the owner of MI Lady’s Coiffure, 1025 1/2 Emerson St., welcomes each customer with a bright, warm smile and a curling or flat iron in hand.
McNeil continues talking to her clients, checking in on what has happened since the last time they visited. The salon features a lengthy list of clients who come to the coiffure about twice a month.
Though McNeil dreamed of becoming a hairdresser as a child, she was first employed as a medical secretary.
“One day a patient asked me if I had found my vocation,” McNeil said. “I knew I hadn’t.”
That same patient arranged for her to enter a downtown Chicago beauty school.
McNeil earned her diploma and worked in two other salons before opening her own, in the Emerson Street building where another hair salon had previously stood, two years after starting beauty school.
MI Lady’s Coiffure is a tiny but homey place. The salon’s pink-and-white floor, large gold-framed mirrors, pink drying chairs and piles of beauty magazines give it a cozy atmosphere.
Many clients said the salon’s personal touch appeals to them.
“Sue is a real professional, but we share much more than an only-business relationship,” said Evanston resident Cynthia Palmer, who has visited the salon for more than 25 years.
“I developed a real friendship with Sue and made good friends among her clientele,” she said.
McNeil also attracts clients who haven’t lived in the area as long as Palmer.
“I’ve frequented this salon for more than a year, and I’ve never been disappointed,” Music junior Lauren Walker said.
“Sue provides a nice service, is very approachable, and gives a lot of good advice to take care of my hair.”
McNeil said her clients always come back to have their hair done at her shop – even when they move to another state or out of the country.
“One of my clients moved to Jamaica,” McNeil said. “She comes back every three months to have her hair done by me.”
Bridget Geiger used to come to MI Lady’s Coiffure when she was 4 years old.
Twenty-three years later, Geiger is McNeil’s sole assistant.
“Sue has been a kind of mentor for me,” Geiger said. “I truly admire what she does. I’m not sure I could give as much of myself as she does.”
McNeil’s salon is still going strong after more than 60 years, and she said she plans to stay for a while longer.
“As long as I can, I stay here,” McNeil said. “It’s not big, but it’s enough for me. People get closer in that way.”
Reach Anne Andlauer at [email protected]