Ricki was a tiny Japanese Buddhist woman who believed that cutting hair was a loving service she could provide and only charged $15 for any cut and never accepted tips.
You weren’t going to find her online or in the phone book (remember those? God, we’re old).
Someone who knew about Ricki’s had to tell you about Ricki’s and then you went down the hill from 116th and Broadway to the last building on the right just before Riverside Drive (pictured above) and then you had to find the buzzer by the three steps down to the lower level and then you had to select the one for Encore Salon.
You never knew who would be in the old 50’s style salon chairs when you walked in for your cut. Ricki had a devoted following that ranged from Upper West Side ladies who lunched, ancient dowagers intent on keeping the perfect tint, jocks from the university, whiz kids from the business school, and other assorted weirdos such as myself. My friend, Ann, who teaches at Columbia University told me about Ricki when I complimented her cut.
After that I never went anywhere else.
In addition to always getting a great cut and superb conversation at Ricki’s I never had to go through any crap trying to persuade her to cut it the way I wanted.
I have walked out of salons where they got all weird about buzzing off the left side of my hair and keeping a nice clean line between the buzzed off side and the long hair. This is complicated? And forget about shaving my head completely bald. I used to go to a barber shop in the Village frequented by gay men and butch lesbians. They’d do my hair the way I liked for $35 plus tip which is very reasonable in this city. To get a nice, close shave of my head was $75 plus tip.
Ricki used cocoa butter and a straight razor. When she finished the first time she noted that she’d nicked my head in one place so she refused to allow me to pay. After that it was always $15. No nicks.
But you didn’t have to be a weirdo to get great service at Ricki’s. I’ve watched her do an expert fade for Columbia College frat boys with all the skill she also brought to cutting the ladies’ hair just so. Ricki took her time but didn’t dawdle so that we were in and out of her chair in time to linger a bit and chat with each other.
Ricki’s was a salon in best sense of the word. Yes, we all came to get our hair cut but we all also hung out for a bit to connect and talk.
Chatting with Ricki was at least as much of a draw as the superb $15 cuts. She knew a bit about everything and we talked politics, spirituality, human foibles, real estate (in New York we talk about real estate more than we talk about the weather), weather, health, relationships, jobs, lack of jobs, the economy, cooking, staying active, good restaurants, bad restaurants (another New York preoccupation), the subway, city council, trips we planned or had taken, and our partners.
At any point in these conversations others would weigh in and soon there would be a general discussion. Those discussions grew wings and could go in any direction.
A favorite topic was always what was happening with rent stabilization (I was assured by very in-the-know types that I would never EVER find an apartment I could afford in New York City). Even Ricki’s clientele who were in market rate rentals or owned their places outright always had an ear for and an opinion about rent stabilization. And, yes, I did find and secure a rent stabilized apartment in Manhattan and, in all likelihood, will be here for the rest of my life. Not a few of the older ladies at Ricki’s were in my camp and it made for some rich back and forths with the kids from the university.
The day came when I called for an appointment and Ricki’s number had been disconnected. Ann, the friend who told me about Ricki’s in the first place, said that the management of the building had either quadrupled her rent or refused to renew her lease or something. No one seemed to know for sure.
Every time another place like Ricki’s goes away a great hue and cry rises: It Is The End Of An Era. The rending of garments and scattering of ashes in the wake of Ricki’s disappearance was a bit more subdued but there are many of us who miss her badly. I didn’t even get to say thank you or good bye.
Fortunately I have my own set of clippers and a partner who is happy to buzz off half my hair just the way I like it.
But I’ll always miss Ricki’s.
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