On Glenwood Boulevard, near the Erwin Street intersection in Tyler, a large billboard speaks volumes without saying a word.

The larger-than-life imagery features a bold lineup of confident, well-dressed women with flattering hairstyles.

The billboard models, all stylists at Elite Salon, appear to be turning heads and transforming attitudes, one snip at a time.

"Yes, our salon is different," said owner Melinae Love, who started the firm, in part, to help people embrace their unique, natural beauty.

"We've been here for 10 years," she said. "There's a lot of stuff out there … but it takes a lot of experience and education to be able to help people."

The beauty experts who keep the wheels turning at Elite Salon, 130 N. Glenwood Blvd., operate on the basis that healthy hair is good for business.

They emphasize best practices in hair care, rather than risking damage by chasing the latest thing.

"We do all kinds of hair," Ms. Love said. "Everyone wants to be unique. … There's a stylist here for everyone."

Salon staffers cater to people of all ages, style preferences and ethnicity, believing everyone feels better with a great look.

"I'm the worst client they have," said a chuckling Sharon Turner, 62, of Tyler. "A lot of times I say, ‘I want this,' and they say, ‘No.' I know some of the things I want to do are off the wall. I trust their judgment; they all went to school and they do things correctly. … I'd go to any chair in this place."

Stylist Brandee Ware, who grew up in a family filled with hair designers, encourages clients to accept themselves and make the most of their gifts.

"Embrace it," she said. "This is who God made you to be. ... The attitude makes you strong inside and out."

She and her Elite co-workers share their message of self-acceptance, not only within the shop but also in the community, such as at back-to-school events.

Hair stylist Temeka Wilson, 38, was apparently born to style. She grew up sneaking Kool-Aid out of the kitchen cupboard to dye her Barbie's hair.

The little doll endured a variety of color makeovers, from pink and blue to purple, prompting snickers and shrieks of delight from the budding beautician.

"I really like color," Ms. Wilson said with a grin. "I actually got my license in '95, and I've been pursuing it ever since. We do blue, purple, burgundy and lots of red."

Her mother, Ann Moore, 59, of Tyler, tears up with emotion and pride when she recalls the endless Kool-Aid experiments.

She's one of Ms. Wilson's regulars, coming once a week like clockwork, for both the handiwork and the joy of watching her daughter at work.

"I've been with my stylist for 10 years," Ms. Moore said, dabbing her eyes. "She's just one of those caring people. … She takes care of me. I thank God every day."

Charlean Butler, 48, is another regular. She loves daring hair colors and trusts her longtime stylist, Ann Reed, to follow the proper techniques.

"Purple is my favorite color," Ms. Butler said. "I've always loved purple; I have purple everything."

Ms. Reed said she indulges her client's flamboyant fashion requests, because Ms. Butler follows advice on follow-up care and maintenance.

Her best advice: Go with a style only if you're willing to maintain it.

"Some people have to come every week, some every two weeks, depending on the style," Ms. Reed said.

With so many women at work in the same salon, one might expect the salon to be a go-to place for gossip, but think again.

"It's so pleasant here," stylist Tanisha Jones, 38, said. "Everyone is so peaceful. They create an atmosphere of love and people."

Customer Cora Morgan, 85, seems at peace in the environment. She sits, eyes closed, as daughter, Beverly Johnson, 58, presses her long, flowing white hair.

"I wash her hair in Ivory soap, because it's so soft and pure," Ms. Johnson, a veteran stylist, said. "I have to be very careful so I don't burn it. I'm so blessed to care for her; it makes me very happy."

She uses specialized care products to maintain the health, receiving a "thumbs up" from her mom, who said she always receives compliments.

"People ask me, where did you get that white hair?" Ms. Morgan said.

Ms. Love's mother, Dottie Hayes, 55, of Tyler, said she's not surprised her daughter's salon is doing well.

"Every last one of these women are true ladies, and I tell them they are elite ladies all the time," Ms. Hayes said.

Twitter: @TMT _ Jacque


Jacque Hilburn-Simmons is an award-winning journalist who has been writing professionally for 30 years. She's a former police reporter who also wrote a book about the KFC murder. She shares stories about East Texas through her Behind the Wheel column.

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