BATAVIA — Vicki Gay McKeirnan always knew she wanted to be a hair stylist. Fifty years to the day she started working at Batavia Beautique, she’s still doing exactly that.
“I always knew that was my interest. It’s a pleasure to go to work every day with people that we care about,” McKeirnan said. “It’s not a chore, it’s a pleasure. (There are) so many connections over the years. That’s what small businesses do. They become friends and family of people who walked in the door as a client and become much more than that.”
McKeirnan, a longtime owner of the salon who began working there Sept. 8, 1970, said her clients and friends can trust that “What’s said in the Beautique stays in the Beautique.”
“As long as I’m loving it the way I love it today, I’m going to continue doing it. Retirement is not in my vocabulary. I love what I do,” McKeirnan said. “We’re a service industry that is very personal. I have many families that have been coming to the salon for four generations.”
Not only have clients become like family, employees have as well. McKeirnan said she wanted to acknowledge two such employees, both retired hair stylists.
“Rose Roz had been with me for 45 years and Joyce Rapone had been with me for 42 years. You work that closely together for that many years and you are family. I’ve been absolutely blessed with wonderful people around me. I did want to recognize them. Rose retired about nine months ago and Joyce about six months ago.”
Another of those people was someone Vicki met unexpectedly one day in 1974 — her future husband and co-owner of the Batavia Beautique, Gary McKeirnan, who walked in one day with a friend. Vicki said Gary’s friend’s girlfriend worked for her at the salon.
Vicki recalled her reaction to seeing Gary for the first time.
“I said, ‘I’m going to marry that guy.’ There was an immediate attraction,” she said. “He asked me out and the rest is history.”
The McKeirnans’ daughter, Gavin McKeirnan Townsend, shared that story when talking about her mom.
“The way my mom tells the story, She was actually working on a client and she saw my father’s reflection in a mirror. She whispered to the client, ‘I’m going to marry that man.’ That was the legend and they (her parents) both support it,” Townsend recalled.
Not only were they married in 1977, but, by then, Gary McKeirnan earned his cosmetology license from Roberts school in Buffalo and was working at Batavia Beautique. Before that, he had worked for Sylvania. Vicki McKeirnan said Sylvania was leaving Batavia at that time and Gary could have transferred with the company or been retrained.
“He’s a very creative person. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University. He cut guys’ hair all through college back in those days,” she said.
Gary McKeirnan decided not to stay with Sylvania.
“By then we had Gavin. That would be great — one of us could be at home with her and one of us could be working if we did this together,” Vicki McKeirnan said.
Gary McKeirnan has been a co-owner for about 43 years.
There was another family member to join Batavia Beautique. Gavin Townsend’s cousin, Joanne Townsend, joined the staff in the early 1980s and has been there for 39 years.
“Since I have become a hair stylist, several of my nieces have done those same things (at other places). They’re not with me working. It does tend to run in families, though,” Vicki McKeirnan said.
But none of this would have been possible without Vicki’s sister, Connie Gautieri, who opened the salon in 1970. At the time, it was on West Main Street, above Adelman’s Electric.
“It’s where McDonald’s is now on West Main Street. The original building is no longer there,” said Townsend.
“Her sister really believed in her and gave her a chance. My mother often says, in helping other people, that it just takes one person to believe in you,” Townsend said.
Vicki McKeirnan said, “My sister was the oldest of eight and I was the youngest. She was 16 years older than me. She was a kind, generous person and she believed in me and gave me a wonderful start.” Vicki McKeirnan said her sister was not a hairdresser.
“She had the idea to open a salon and that I would work there and manage it for her right out of beauty school,” said McKeirnan, who earned her cosmetology license at BOCES, now the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership. “I was on my way to an interview in Buffalo at a salon there and she approached me and said, ‘How about this?’”
McKeirnan said Connie hired not only her, but two other girls who had also just graduated from BOCES.
“There were three of us right out of school. My sister took a big chance here,” McKeirnan said. “She was always there. She was the one who paid the bills, so for me there wasn’t that pressure. My role was doing the hair and making sure we had supplies, and making sure everyone was there when they were supposed to be there.”
Sadly, Connie Gautieri passed away a few years after Vicki began working at the Batavia Beautique.
Gavin Townsend said, “What’s important is to capture that it was a tragedy for my family to lose Aunt Connie. Despite that, or because of that, my mother has triumphed in her role as owner and operator for 50 years.”
Vicki McKeirnan said the transition happened when Batavia Beautique was in Kings Plaza in the mini mall and her sister became ill.
“(She) asked me if I would be interested in taking over and, of course, I said, ‘Yes,’” McKeirnan said.
Batavia Beautique has been in three locations since its opening in 1970. Vicki McKeirnan said it was on West Main Street for two years before moving to Kings Plaza. The salon remained in Kings Plaza until the early ‘90s, Gavin Townsend said.
“I think they were there (at Kings Plaza) for nearly 20 years. A lot of clients who have been there for a long time will remember that salon very well,” she said. “It was very, what we would call today, retro. It was an amazing example of 1970s decor. My Aunt Connie had a hand in it. She was still the owner when they moved to Kings Plaza.”
The salon is now at 4141 W. Main Street Rd., where it has been for 28 years, Vicki McKeirnan said.
When the 20-year lease at Kings Plaza was up, 4141 West Main was available, she said. The salon was able to move in there and there was room to expand.
“We made it bigger. We doubled the size of the building when we went there. We liked it because it was free-standing and had a lot of windows and a lot of parking,” Vicki McKeirnan said. “It was a good business move to do that. It was more visible. It was prime property and it’s worked out very well for us,”
Gavin Townsend said the Beautique moved back to West Main without missing a beat. She said her father’s family moved the salon quickly.
“They closed on a Saturday, they opened back up on Monday. They’re not closed for long. My parents don’t take vacations,” she said. “My father’s siblings were critical. They collectively built the addition and helped with getting the salon ready.”
Batavia Beautique, like most other businesses, was shut down in March by COVID-19.
“Small businesses were really hit hard by the pandemic shutdown. Hair salons, specifically, had a lot of challenges. That was very difficult for our clients,” Gavin Townsend said. “To be closed for two months ... it’s such a critical thing and it’s such a part of everyone’s identity. Their hair is so important to them.”
Gavin Townsend said her mother was watching every day to see if Gov. Andrew Cuomo made any announcement about reopening, which barbershops and salons had the green light to do around the end of May.
“She was in constant contact with her clients. Not just, ‘We’ll get you in as soon as we open,’ but, ‘How are you, what do you need?” Gavin Townsend said. ”My parents, I think it was Mother’s Day, went and delivered gifts to their longstanding clients. They delivered flowers to people’s porches, just to check in and let people know, ‘We’re thinking of you, especially during such a difficult time.’
“Within minutes of the governor being on television, my mother was at the salon. My mother was so well-prepared that ... she called clients and had several clients in within minutes — immediately after the Memorial Day, the minute he said they could open. They played catchup with people and they worked 12-hour days, seven days a week for several weeks, to get caught up.”
Vicki McKeirnan admits the decorating of the salon for her 50th anniversary as an employee caught her by surprise.
“Outside and inside — all kinds of tinsel — it was very glittery. The posters said, ‘Cheers to 50 years!” she said. “My daughter and three of my nieces surprised us with that. Valerie Gautieri Tidwell, Vinessa Gautieri Schreckengost and Joanne Townsend all helped Gavin. Joanne had a key to get in there. I knew someone had to let them in and it was her.”
Vicki McKeirnan said the salon was already decorated when she arrived for work the morning of Sept. 1. Gary McKeirnan came in later that day.
“We’re right on the corner in such a big traffic area. You can’t miss it. They went all out with the decorations — overwhelming, but wonderful. Clients have stopped by and congratulated us,” she said.
Gary McKeirnan said, “The clients who joined in were also very happy and returned with gifts.”
“Which is totally unnecessary, but they’re showing their appreciation and we’re loving that as well,” Vicki McKeirnan said with gratitude. “We have some gifts to give to clients, to show appreciation. We’re in full celebration mode.
“I was overwhelmed to begin with. I’ve awaited for this a long time, this 50 years. It was something I planned on achieving and I’m not stepping yet,” Vicki said. “It’s been a goal of mine. I’m glad they celebrated it with me.
With a laugh, Vicki added, “I’ve been told that the next 50 years in the business are going to be easier for me than the first 50.”