Salon owner styles hair, offers 90 years worth of insights

Salon owner styles hair, offers 90 years worth of insights

June 15, 2012

By T.J. Banes at IndyStar.com

As she wraps damp strands of hair around inch-long brush rollers, Stella Florence “Ted” Szatkowski tells one story after another, each time giggling like a schoolgirl.

Most of her stories are about her clients — from Brownsburg to Bloomington — who have been coming to Ted’s Beauty Shop for more years than she can remember.

“This one gal drove all the way over here just to give me a hug. I’d done her hair for her wedding several years ago. I said, ‘Well, what I really want to know is, are you still married?’ ” she said as her voice raises an octave into a slight cackle.

And the customers keep on coming. For more than 55 years they’ve been coming in for pin curls, perms and up-dos.

As she approaches another cake-and-ice-cream celebration in August, Ted’s 90-year-old hands move a little slower, but she continues working 41/2 days a week in one of the oldest buildings on Speedway’s Main Street.

With its line of pink Turbinator Hair Dryer Chairs, Szatkowski has owned the shop since 1955, but the building pre-dates the business by more than a half century. Szatkowski took the beauty shop over from her aunt, Sadie Fuller, and bought the building, too.

“It stands still in time because the owner stands still in time,” said Rosemary Burkett, 83, a longtime customer. “I saw a woman in MCL with beautiful hair and asked her where she went to have it styled. I’ve been coming here ever since.”

Born in Benton County, Szatkowski’s family moved to Indianapolis when she was 5. She graduated from Ben Davis High School and attended Approved Beauty College on North Meridian Street. She was the youngest of four children, and her dad gave each child a nickname. Stella’s was “Ted.”

“When I got to first grade, there was a ‘Stella’ and an ‘Estella’ in the class. The teacher knew I was called ‘Ted,’ so that’s what she called me and that’s what I’ve been called ever since,” said Szatkowski.

She works Tuesday through Saturday, serving customers who range from teenagers to grandmothers — many are third-generation clients.

It takes only a few customers to liven up the place, and within minutes, the chatter reaches a level straight out of a scene from “Steel Magnolias” — with the focus on the women’s lives, husbands and children.

“Back in the day, we didn’t take our kids to baby sitters. We took them with us to the beauty shop,” said Martha Hunter, 90. “I used to bring all three of my children with me, and they’d pass the time picking up hairpins with a magnet.”

At one time, Ted, who was married for 38 years, had 10 operators. Her husband, William “Bill” Szatkowski, died 23 years ago this month. They never had any children, so most of her nurturing spirit has gone straight to her clients.

After finishing beauty school, she worked at a shop at 49th and Pennsylvania streets, before moving to Speedway. That’s where she’s been ever since.

“I don’t have to work, but I never get tired of what I’m doing because I love people, not just the customers but all the people who drop by just to see me,” she said. On a recent afternoon, the meter reader dropped in to say hello, and the local letter carrier is quick to tell people the “closed” sign hangs on Ted’s door every Monday.

The rest of the week, she’s working.

She even worked on Easter Sunday because it was the only day her clients from the Indiana University School of Medicine had free. Some customers remember when Ted worked late hours to accommodate second- and third-shift employees at the nearby Allison Transmission plant.

Most weekends she runs errands for her friends in her gray Cadillac with a black landau top. Every Saturday night she has a “slumber party” with a 4-year-old neighbor girl.

On Sunday morning, they eat fried mush and cupcakes for breakfast. Then Szatkowski visits a different church almost every week because she said it’s a way to meet more people.

In the past few months, she’s given her shop a face lift of sorts — new black and white flooring, central air and fresh paint — but the vintage hair dryers remain.

“People ask me why I would put money into this old building,” Szatkowski said. “I tell them because when I’m dead and gone, I want one of the oldest buildings on Main Street to continue to live on.”

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