After 45 years in business, owner of Merle Norman Cosmetics, Wigs & Day Spa, Madelin White, has come to realize that her shop is not merely transactional, but a place to get to know each client on a deeper level. And that philosophy is evident in the close relationships White builds with the people who visit her shop. “Our clients have become family,” says Madelin. “There’s lots of them. And that’s what keeps me here, because I would miss all of them, a lot.”
For almost two decades, a friendship has bloomed between Madelin and a loyal client, Alice Baldo, who looks forward to her hair appointments at Merle Norman every other week. After moving to the South Sound region from Vermont in 2001 to be closer to her daughter, Alice soon discovered Madelin’s shop when searching for a new salon. Upon meeting Madelin, Alice says she was instantly attracted to her genuine interest in people. “We hit it off beautifully,” says Alice. “One of the things I remember right away was Madelin’s warmth and her welcoming, so that made me feel like coming back.”
Madelin felt the same way about Alice. After getting to know her and hearing more about her life experiences, Madelin admired Alice’s spirited attitude in the face of hardship. In the wake of losing her husband, undergoing open heart surgery and experiencing a partial amputation of her leg, Alice has remained optimistic, crediting her faith to seeing her through adversity.
“Alice is probably the most positive person I have ever met in my entire life,” says Madelin. “No matter what has happened to her, and believe me, she’s been through a lot, she’s always smiling and she’s always positive about it. When she lost part of her leg, you know what her remark was? ‘You know, if it happened to a younger person, it would have been much worse, but I’m okay. I’ve lived a good life.’”
Despite setbacks in her health, Alice’s regular hair appointments at Merle Norman are a time of fun and laugher, where Madelin and Alice are able to maintain a light-hearted banter. “She has to listen to all my dumb jokes,” says Madelin.
“That’s what she does to people,” says Alice. “You have something hard to deal with, but she does it in a way that, it’s just what I needed.”
As they have grown closer throughout the years, Alice has introduced Madelin to her daughter and grandson, who periodically visit the shop. In turn, Madelin’s children and grandchildren have grown closer to Alice.
“My kids love her, my grandkids love her,” shares Madelin. “She’s just been there for all of them.”
Madelin’s son, Tyson Hull, has known Alice since he was a high school student in the early 2000s, when he worked at the retirement home Alice lived in. “It’s been a long time,” says Tyson. “She’s watched me grow up.”
Because Tyson works remotely, he often sets up shop for the day in the Merle Norman office. During breaks, he can take time to catch up with longtime clients like Alice. Tyson says that he enjoys hearing the epic stories from her life. One of his favorite stories was a conversation Alics’s husband had with singer, Tony Bennett.
“This is before he was well known and was doing a club,” says Alice. “Bennett’s cousin was a friend of my husband. And he said, ‘my cousin Tony is trying to get into the music business.’ At the time, Tony was a truck driver and he made good money, so my husband tried to talk him out of going into the entertainment business. He says, ‘oh no, you’ve got a good job and music’s unpredictable.’ I said to my husband, ‘never pay attention to you.’ He was embarrassed the rest of his life.”
Alice says that a highlight of every other week is being able to visit Merle Norman. “I live in assisted living now,” says Alice. “And they always know when I’m going, because I’m happy. That’s what you get here. Because Madelin really cares. It’s not just business. She cares for everyone who walks in here.”
“And yet,” Madelin responds, “she just lights up the room when she comes in.”
“Because I’m happy to come here,” Alice replies. “It’s wonderful. I leave Madelin’s on a high.”
After 18 years of friendship, Madelin says that Alice’s endless source of positivity is a rare trait to find. “When you look at everything that’s going on, not just here, but in the world, there’s so much negativity,” explains Madelin. “And she’s such a positive influence on anybody that she meets.”
And for Madelin, clients like Alice are the reason she is still in business after 45 years. When asked if she will retire, she says she has developed too many ties to walk away from the business, as her clients have become like family. “It has become a family business,” Madelin shares. “They’re not just customers. Probably 7 out of 10 people that walk in my store hug me. And that’s how I feel about them. I want that. I live for that.”
Natasha, Madelin’s granddaughter, continues to work with Madelin and also embraces Alice as part of the family.
To learn about Merle Norman and the services offered, visit the Merle Norman Cosmetics, Wigs, and Day Spa website.
Merle Norman Cosmetics, Wigs, and Day Spa
3925 8th Ave SE, Lacey
Monday – Friday: 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Saturday: 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.