Former Laney College student Siu Cheung has enjoyed a long career as a hairdresser. But this April, after 43 years in business, she will clip her last strand of hair.
Cheung’s hairdressing skills enabled her salon, Le Coif Beauty Lounge, to gain respect from the Oakland community.
When people want to get their hair done for a special occasion, they pop into Cheung’s shop, plop into her chair, and watch her work her magic.
Cheung’s customers have relied on her skills and remained loyal for decades.
“Four customers followed me from Laney College,” Cheung said. “They still come to my shop.”
Behind a counter there is a photo album with pictures of Cheung’s customers.
In one album, there is a family with four generations — a baby, a mother, a grandmother, and a great-grandmother — posing together.
“They all come to get a haircut,” said Cheung, whose shop is across the street from a funeral home. “But not the dead people.”
But Cheung’s salon has not always been a fixture on High Street.
In 1968, she was 19 years old when she arrived in Oakland from Hong Kong with eight family members. She enrolled in an ESL class and a cosmetology class at Laney.
There, she met Rosemary Faulkner, a cosmetology instructor who helped her secure her first hairdressing job.
“Mrs. Faulkner took me to interview at two beauty shops,” Cheung said. “And I got the job.”
After securing her first gig, a customer helped her apply for her own license.
Then the salon owner, Marion Armentrout, sold the salon to Cheung for $200.
“I got the money in a week,” she said.
Framed pictures of her mentors, Faulkner and Armentrout, hang in her shop.
Cheung cared for her former teacher in the last years of Faulkner’s life. She compared her relationship to Faulkner to that of a daughter and mother.
That pivotal relationship taught her a skill that helped her build a successful career.
Cheung doesn’t take her business success for granted — or her location. Next door is a tax accounting service, a space that has been occupied by a long line of businesses in the time that Cheung has run hers.
Insurance companies, clothing stores, musicians and a fortune teller all leased the place. One tenant tried to burn the place down when he was evicted for unpaid rent.
Cheung saw all the headaches that the landlord endured over the decades. So when the landlord offered to sell her the building, she declined. “A lot of tenants don’t pay rent,” Cheung said.
Then she recited the words of advice she once heard from a pastor in a hotel in San Carlos: “If you want a long life, don’t buy rental property.”
Next month, Cheung will lock her shop, return the key to the landlord and spend her days babysitting her three-year-old granddaughter, Chloe.
A customer who heard the news about her salon closing next month
asked for one final request.
“Cut my hair short,” he said, “’cause I’m never going to cut it
Kironyo is a Laney Tower staff writer.