Helen Ingersoll and Traci Woody

Haven Salon owner Helen Ingersoll and Manager Traci Woody at the salon, which closed April 16.

On April 16, a post on Haven Salon’s Facebook page announced it was closing, effective immediately. “A pandemic and industry changes have made it abundantly clear that it is time to wrap things up and move forward,” the post said.

Many of the post’s comments that followed expressed sadness and appreciation for 16 years of service. Most of the comments conveyed some level of surprise. Shock, even. What happened? For more than a decade and a half, and right up to the pandemic, Haven had done almost nothing but grow and succeed. From it’s beginning in 2005, in a single room on the second floor of the historic building at 121 N. Churton St. in downtown Hillsborough, to squeezing three stylists into that same room; to taking over the room next to it, and the one next to that one, and then the one next to that.

At its peak, Haven was home to eight stylists, each with a dedicated following of clients. Covid trimmed the salon to two, moving appointments from the hardwood offices upstairs to the safety of the parking lot outside.

More than a year later, with the pandemic situation improving across the state, owner Helen Ingersoll and manager Traci Woody were hammering out plans for bringing back the salon, and bringing it back strong. That meant stylists would would be back and staff levels would potentially return to pre-pandemic levels. 

“We we weathered the storm,” Ingersoll said. “We decided to get serious about adding some structure and leveling up.”

So how did the salon get to shutting down when it was on the verge of ‘leveling up?’ “The bottom line is not everybody wanted to do that,” Ingersoll continued. “The bummer of it was no one was willing to communicate about that. We were in the dark. With no conversation, people made choices about things — including my business partner — without discussing it with me.” 

Four years ago, in 2017, Ingersoll found herself at odds with the future of her salon, albeit for a different reason. She realized her heart was no longer into doing hair. She had endured 25 years of physical pain from repetitious hand movement and being on her feet. She was ready to move from “behind the chair,” and pursue a change. 

“I really wanted a life where I got to be outside and get dirty,” she said. “I had sort of run the aesthetic, and the appearance of things, my career to the very ends of it for me. I was certified in everything I could be certified in. I started a business. I’d mentored dozens of hairdressers. I did all the stuff, and I felt good about it, and it was time to transition out.”

A longtime lover of horses, Ingersoll launched her horse training business Frog Pond Farm from her farm in Cedar Grove. She would train riders and horses in dressage. She believed that Haven Salon was capable of sustaining itself and allow her the freedom to recharge. But Ingersoll soon found out the role she played in the success of the salon was larger than she expected.

“I had a plan of how I thought that was going to go, and none of the things that I had planned, of course, happened right,” she said. “I didn’t understand it when I was in the middle of it, what the concept of a power vacuum meant.”

Since she began Haven Salon, Ingersoll has made it her goal to empower others. Whether by providing a jolt of confidence to a new mom in need of a good-hair day; or helping someone defy a little gravity, and get their chin up before a job interview; to giving her employees the skills and experience to move on and start their own business, Ingersoll wanted her establishment to be the embodiment of aiding others.

“I have been in addiction recovery for 31 years, and I cut my teeth, as a young adult, on the experience of fellowship and community, and the experience of selfless service and a group of people taking care of one another and looking out for their well being,” Ingersoll said. “Those principles were so important to me as I made the choice to move forward and create an environment that felt like something I wanted to offer. And so, when I was thinking about what that feeling is like and what that experience is like, Haven is what came to mind. I wanted to have a place where people could have a luxury experience without feeling like they had to be someone they weren’t.”

Uncomfortable with the notion that she was the key ingredient to the salon’s future, Ingersoll first considered selling her business. After some introspection, she backed off the idea of selling and decided to stay and see if she could build something new. A short time later, she added a partner who invested in the business. She hired Traci Woody to help with operations. Ingersoll was feeling good again about Haven’s future.

And then, like humidity to a hairdo, the pandemic wrecked those plans, if only temporarily. Ingersoll and Woody kept focus on how the salon would come back when it was safer to do so. They regularly communicated their plans with staff members, even when the business was shuttered because of Covid. 

Which is why the two were so stunned to find out most of the other staff members had made other plans. “There were monthly opportunities to have a conversation and monthly opportunities where we solicit feedback and check in,” Woody said. “At no point, up until the last couple weeks before we closed, was anything discussed in a way that asked for progress, or change, or anything of that nature. I think that’s the most surprising part is that there was plenty of opportunity for there to be really good conversation. And we literally asked for it again, and again, and again, and it just didn’t happen.”

With plans for the renewed Haven completely derailed, Ingersoll sat at her kitchen table with her husband and decided she couldn’t do it anymore. Twenty-four hours after finding out she would have only two people on staff — one of those being Traci — she talked with her by phone and laid out her plan to close the salon.

Woody said she fully understands why Haven needed to close. She said her plans are in the works, and Ingersoll is keeping her on payroll until the last bottle of conditioner is moved out of her old building. Woody said she is applying for jobs in Chicago, and that what she has gained from her time with Ingersoll is giving her the confidence to move out of the area.

Which leads to the plot twist in this story: despite the emotional roller coaster of the last few months, Ingersoll said she is proud of the staff members who are setting out on their own, or pursuing bigger opportunities, even if she wasn’t happy with the method by which it was carried out.

“It’s not about the leaving and starting something new” Ingersoll said. “It’s the how. I wasn’t able to celebrate someone transitioning to a new business and throw a party like I would have wanted to, even if they did move down the street. I never intended to be the end all, be all. I don’t roll that way. I don’t want that, I don’t want to be that important. I’ve other stuff I want to do, and starting your own business is not easy. There’s a lot of details. I had baptism by fire. I want everyone to not have to make the same mistakes I did, of which there were plenty. 

“I applaud anyone who is willing to do that heavy lifting, because it is. It is heavy lifting,” she said.