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Family owned hair salon offers haircuts to Notre Dame community

| Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Cutting hair ran in the family for Zak Emmons, who has been the owner of University Hair Stylists in the basement of LaFortune Student Center for the last decade. University Hair Stylists, in some form, has been around for about 39 years and was originally owned by Emmons’ father, Jeff Emmons, who opened the salon in 1979.

Jeff Emmons, who is currently described by his son as being “by and large mostly retired” from working at the salon, happened upon the Notre Dame position when he was cutting the hair of a couple Notre Dame faculty who were trying to find someone to open a salon alongside the existing barbershop in Badin Hall that would cater to both men and women.

Photo Courtesy of Zak Emmons

The University Hair Stylists, in the basement of the LaFortune Student Center, is run as a family business by the Emmons family. Jeff Emmon’s founded the salon in 1979. His son Zak is the current owner.

“Years before I was born, he got his cosmetology license and was doing hair at a place off campus and happened to cut a couple of gentlemen’s hair who were working in the administration here,” Emmons said. “ … They were like, ‘Hey Jeff, I’m thinking about opening up like a salon, like, you know, the barbershop or salon. We’re interviewing potential proprietors, and you should throw your hat in the ring.’ So he did, and he had the references, so he got the space. Basically they just threw up a wall in the middle the barbershop in Badin Hall and it kind of grew from that.”

Since Notre Dame had opened its doors to women for the first time in 1972, Zak Emmons said this change and addition of the salon was needed to fulfill the changing needs of the University.

Zak Emmons did not always know he wanted to take over his father’s business and initially used doing hair as a way to put off going to college. Growing up, he frequently worked in the salon, and about 10 years ago officially purchased the business from his father.

When LaFortune was being redone in the mid 1980s, University Hair Stylists was able to expand when it moved to the space it now occupies across from Pizza Hut and Taco Bell in the basement. However, Emmons said even with the normal change that comes with an establishment, the salon still primarily cuts men’s hair.

“One thing that’s similar is that we still do more guys’ hair,” Emmons said. “We’re a barbershop that does color and eyebrow wax and that sort of thing … about 75 percent of our business is still guys. That’s kind of one thing that’s never changed I suppose. I would say like every year we probably get a little more of a female clientele.”

According to Zak Emmons, there are nine employees that currently work at University Hair Stylists, many of whom have varying talents other than giving a simple haircut. He said the business does not have much turnover, and a handful of employees have been with the business for over a decade. Emmons also has three sisters, two of whom have worked in the salon at varying points.

“We’re in this interesting spot and conundrum where it’s hard to do both really well or at least appeal to both really well as far as like offering certain services,” he said. “We’re a barbershop by and large, but we do have some talent. For example, Diana [Roop] does excellent updos for weddings and stuff. In a dream world, I’d love to have a dedicated salon space and more of a haircut and barbershop space as well so you could have a little more privacy.”

Roop, who has worked for University Hair Stylists for 26 years, said working on a university campus differs from working in a normal salon because of the constant changes in clientele.

“I would say our clientele changes a lot more over the years,” she said. “While you get new students every year, every four years your students are gone. So you lose students, and that’s kind of sad because you don’t keep track of them as long, but it also keeps our clientele young and fresh.”

Roop cited a change in what people want from getting their hair cut as a help in the salon’s growth over the years.

“We have definitely picked up business over the years. I think more students are used to stylists and not just barbers, so that’s helped us improve,” Roop said.

Zak Emmons also said working on a university campus is a unique experience, and that it feels like an “oasis.”

“I love being on campus, especially coming from South Bend, a smallish Midwest sort of community. It’s pretty homogenized,” he said. “Especially with grad students or teachers, you end up getting to know them for like five, six, 10 years. You just end up knowing their names and you talk about kids and family and that sort of stuff. I just think it’s super interesting and fascinating to be here in this oasis of culture in South Bend that I would never have experienced otherwise.”

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