Hair-cutting venture born from need to pay bills

By Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Times

TSE BONITO, N.M., May 17, 2012


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(Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)

TOP: Hairstylist Ophelia Greer holds Hilda Francisco's hair in place May 3 by the New Mexico-Arizona state line next to State Highway 264. Keeto set up a portable salon to raise funds.

SECOND FROM TOP: Customers visit Ophelia Greer's roadside stand May 3 with Tse Bonito, N.M., in the background.

BOTTOM: Hairstylist Ophelia Greer cuts Hilda Francisco's hair May 3 inside a trailer she and her brother Virgil Keeto converted into a hair salon.



T

he small white trailer sat along Highway 264 just east of the Arizona-New Mexico line.

Hanging in the window was a homemade sign with "Hair Cuts" posted and along the counter sat hairstyling books.

Ophelia Greer, of St. Michaels, Ariz., was inside and getting ready to test her sink when the Navajo Times stopped by May 3 to talk about her venture.

Inside were the familiar furnishings of a salon - a hydraulic barber chair, a standing hair dryer and a work station to house mirrors, scissors, hair clippers, curls and other equipment.

She was charging $10 for a haircut. Due to space, she could only serve one customer at a time.

Greer and her brother, Virgil Keeto, converted the trailer, which used to house Virgil's coffee business, into the salon.

With the coffee business logo still visible on the trailer, Greer said some people stopped to purchase coffee only to discover it was a salon.

Her interest in cosmetology started when she was a child and gave haircuts to the neighborhood kids.

"I used to get in trouble for it," she said.

She spent a decade studying cosmetology at DeWollff's College of Hair Styling and Cosmetology Inc. in Albuquerque, Cosmetology Institute of Florida in Boca Raton, Fla. and the University of New Mexico-Gallup.

This latest effort was spurred by the need to help her father pay his utility bill.

Her father, Johnny Keeto, allowed a relative to stay at his St. Michaels home but that person raised the bill to more than $1,000 before moving to Phoenix.

"My dad, if somebody was walking by and had no food, he'll give it to them," she said. "He gives shelter to whoever comes."

The family was told to pay at least $900 in order to keep the service. A local foundation donated $300 and the family is trying to raise the additional amount.




Looking for a solution to raise money, Greer established the hair business.

"It's how our dad and mom raised us," she said. "Don't give up, to get up every morning and figure out how to solve your problem."

Her target customers are those who do not have time to make appointments or are looking for a quick haircut.

"Most of the customers I had yesterday were the people walking by," she said about the foot traffic that goes along Highway 264.

One customer was hitchhiking to a rodeo in Texas and another was walking to Ganado to work on a sheep corral.

"He stopped by and said, 'I can donate $5,'" she said. "So I cut his hair and he went on his merry way."

When business was slow, she cleaned.

"I have to re-dust every five minutes and I have to re-sweep," she said about the pitfalls of having the trailer's window open, only to have dust fly in when it is windy.

Greer was happy to see her aunt and cousin, Hilda Francisco and Tina Nez, stopping by for haircuts.

As Greer cut Francisco's light brown hair, they talked about the business.

Working alongside Greer was a family friend named Harley, who declined giving his last name.

"I think it's good," Harley said. "She was trying to look for work and she's trying this out."

"Turn on the generator," Greer said to Harley before using hair clippers to trim her aunt's hair.

At the time of the interview, Greer was looking at setting up her salon at the flea markets in Ganado, Chinle, Crownpoint and Sheepsprings, N.M.

As the workday drew to a close, two more customers stopped by.

"My name is Ophelia," she said. "What kind of hair style would like today?"