Wicker Park Salon Celebrates 19 Years Despite Pandemic
Following a wild and unpredictable year, Fringe remains a small business anchor on Milwaukee avenue. A go-to Wicker Park salon for many residents, Fringe was woven into the neighborhood fabric almost nineteen years ago and continues to stand tall despite recent financial pressures. As a new year approaches with promises of brighter days, owner Dawn Bublitz is forging ahead with the same optimistic force as when she opened the Wicker Park salon in 2002. She’s equipped with much more than just a positive outlook, though. The perspective she’s gained from almost two decades as a business owner, mother, and beauty professional give Bublitz the hardiness to steer Fringe through the uncharted waters of pandemic life.
In the early 2000’s, Bublitz made the leap from stylist to Jill of All Trades after nine years working at another salon. First, she became a homeowner, settling down in Wicker Park just two blocks from the main strip of Milwaukee avenue.
“I had purchased a home in Wicker Park, which was a fast-changing neighborhood at the time. Many of my clients were coming over to Wicker Park for the restaurants, so I felt it was a safe bet they would follow me over here.”
And they did. Bublitz soon added “business owner” to her list of new titles; Instead of searching for another salon to employ her, she opened her own just steps from her new home. Fringe officially became part of the Wicker Park small business scene in April 2002.
For Bublitz, the move and the opening of the Wicker Park salon had a lot to do with timing. With a great deal of real estate available at the time, she ended up choosing a former warehouse holding space for Continental Furniture (now closed). “It needed a tremendous amount of buildout” says Bublitz, who had suddenly found herself on an unexpected career path.
“I actually never expected to open a salon. From 1987 – 1993 I pursued a political science degree at University of Illinois at Chicago, with plans of going to Law School. However, once I started studying for the LSAT, I realized that I could never work behind a desk all day. I really loved working behind the chair, training assistants and meeting and talking to exciting people every day and making them beautiful.”
Original Storefront and interior from 2002.
In fact, the direct impact on clients is one of the most rewarding parts of the job, according to Bublitz. It’s no secret that a little TLC in the stylist’s chair can have profound effects on a person’s well-being. While the term “self-care” has been sprinkled liberally upon consumers in recent years, there are viable roots to its original meaning and purpose. When a client comes in emotionally frayed or at the end of their rope, some simple care and attention often brings them back to a neutral place. When the stylists get a chance to help someone who needs this care and attention, the reward is big. According to Bublitz, it can be an emotional experience at times.
“Over the years, a few clients have told me they have a cancer diagnosis, and they are going to be losing their hair. Hair loss from chemo is devastating and with life or death on the line, it is necessary. When a customer tells me what they are going through, I have created a plan that helps my guests get through this.”
Bublitz often meets with her clients at a wig shop, where they together shop for the perfect fit. Most importantly, they search for a wig that will best match their own color and texture.
“These are my most memorable, because after 20 plus years of monthly appointments, I am so happy to be here to help them through this difficult time.”
These memories also serve to preserve Bublitz’s perspective during a year that has been especially brutal for small businesses. Despite implementing strict health & safety protocols inside the massive salon, appointments remain on the light side. She realizes, though, that she is luckier than most. The Wicker Park salon remains open, with the team creating new ways to drive sales.
Bublitz’s indomitable sense of spirit, combined with some quick thinking, helped get Fringe through the initial stages of the pandemic and subsequent shutdown. Back in March, she orchestrated Fringe’s pivot to retail, selling the salon’s professional hair and skin products online. In addition to filling and packing orders, Bublitz made same-day local deliveries throughout Wicker Park herself. Fringe continues to offer these products for delivery or same-day pickup at Fringe-online.com
The hope for Fringe in 2021 is that as vaccines continue to roll out, client visits to the salon will increase. In the meantime, Bublitz continues to fine tune her business instincts. A 2019 graduate of the 10,000 Small Business program through Goldman Sachs, the Wicker Park salon owner is ever pursuant of additional leadership education. Her focus for the new year will be developing and supporting the salon team members, who have seen a dramatic drop in client bookings. Bublitz has seen her salon through some dark times, though, and she’s not afraid to forge a path into the unknown. For now, Fringe will rely heavily on retail sales the team hopes to fill lots of orders in the Wicker Park neighborhood this winter. Spring will bring the Wicker Park salon ’s nineteenth anniversary and, for Bublitz, a marker of perseverance in small business.
Employees circa 2006 and 2016