- Luke Awtry
- Maggie Hazard
Starting a business during a pandemic is like standing naked in the street, exposed and vulnerable, for the world to judge, according to Maggie Hazard.
In other words, it's terrifying. But that's what Hazard, a 35-year-old Burlington resident, did in August. She bought the former Salon Salon in Winooski, rechristened it Wise Rose Beauty and launched her first full-service establishment after more than a decade of working for others.
"The idea of buying a business in a pandemic is either completely insane or I'm a fucking genius," Hazard said with a big laugh.
To take the leap, she said, she leaned on her experience as a single mom raising two now-teenage daughters. That job also requires gumption and bravery every day, Hazard said.
"It is really just hanging your whole being out there, because I know for me, personally, I can't do something that's not 100 percent me," she said.
Hazard, a certified aesthetician and hair stylist, offers waxing and facials, haircuts and color, and makeup consultations and application at Wise Rose Beauty. She's also licensed to do permanent cosmetics, including eyebrow tattooing. She recently took on an apprentice who will have her own clients.
In the bright, airy space on Winooski Falls Way, four styling chairs face huge, wood-framed mirrors. But those seats are judiciously filled; Hazard limits capacity to reduce coronavirus risk. "I wanted something really high-end that was available to everyone and felt comfortable and safe and secure," she said.
Hazard said she welcomes customers from any racial background, sexual orientation or gender identity. She eschews salon snootiness or exclusivity and encourages customers, or even passersby, to drop in and chat or ask questions.
"I am committed to changing the idea of a salon," Hazard said. "I think it needs to be all-encompassing and welcoming and a different type of community."
As a biracial woman, Hazard has both personal and professional command of curly hair cutting and care. Her apprentice is trained in different braiding styles, weaves, wigs and extensions.
Growing up in Morrisville, Hazard developed an early affinity for the methods of beautification. "I knew what I wanted to do when I was 13," she said. "I was mixing blush with Vaseline to make lip gloss, because I wasn't allowed to have it."
In high school, after taking a beekeeping class and learning to craft beeswax candles, Hazard created a lip balm. She still enjoys studying the molecular makeup of beauty products and the way they improve the look and feel of skin and hair.
Hazard also loves making people feel good. She exudes warmth, laughs often and longs for the day when she can hug her clients again.
In 2007, Hazard finished aesthetician school and started working in spas in Stowe and Burlington. She later earned a certification in hair styling in order to offer her burgeoning wedding clientele a full range of services.
Hazard joined Chop Shop Hair Design in Burlington in 2014, then took a chair at Salon Salon, where she and owner Glenn Sautter became good friends. She said she felt torn, though, between the demands of the salon schedule and her kids.
Almost four years ago, Hazard left to share a studio in Winooski with a fellow stylist and friend, working alternate days to give her more flexibility with her time. When her business there expanded to multiple services, it outgrew the small space, and Hazard considered making another move — to Atlanta, Ga. But her daughters' close relationship with their younger half-brother in Vermont convinced her to stay.
In January last year, Sautter invited Hazard to breakfast and told her he was looking to downsize and hoped to sell her his Winooski business. He also owns a Salon Salon location in Stowe and the Men's Room salon in Burlington.
Sautter said he had watched Hazard grow and widen her talents over the years and sensed that she'd like to take the next step. "I was so happy that I could see it handed over to Maggie and see her appreciate it for what it was," he said. "I feel like I passed it on to a family member."
Hazard said she didn't hesitate. "It all fell into place, which means that was the exact right thing I was supposed to do," she said.
Not so fast, it turned out. Two months after the meeting, the coronavirus — and the state's subsequent shutdown of nonessential businesses — put the sale on hold. Hazard began to waver on taking such a big leap.
Last June, when salons were allowed to reopen, she returned to her chair at Salon Salon. "We were kind of waiting it out to see if everything would go back to normal," she said.
By August, with COVID-19 cases down in Vermont and people resuming some normal activities, Hazard closed on the purchase. It included the salon's contents and fixtures, client list, lease, and business name.
Hazard spent weekends repainting the space, while also seeing regular clients and several new ones. "I couldn't even keep up with the phone," she said.
Earlier this year, Hazard applied for and received a Paycheck Protection Program loan. The City of Burlington also gave her a grant through a program that supports area BIPOC-owned businesses, she said.
The money helped Hazard pay bills while she is "successfully working at a loss," as she put it. Customer interest is high, but capacity restraints have limited revenue, providing just enough to cover expenses.
Looking past the pandemic, Hazard gets excited thinking about the events she'd like to host in the salon. Every year, she picks a personal enrichment project for herself, and 2020 was the year her friend Craig Mitchell taught her to deejay. Hazard said she'd love to use her new skills at a belated business-opening party. One of her clients, a sex therapist, has suggested an intimacy class to teach couples how to care for each other.
Hazard's business plan also includes mentoring other small-business owners, particularly single moms and women of color.
"A year from now, two years from now, five years from now, it's going to be amazing," Hazard said. "And I would have kicked myself a thousand times over if I didn't just try."