The kindest cut

Kids’ salon owner makes it – with plenty of heart

Walk into Shear Kids in the Fulton neighborhood and you’ll notice right away it’s not your average hair salon.

An aquarium gurgles against one wall, surrounded by yellow and green fish that swim in the wallpaper. Pint-sized barber chairs and video monitors line the other wall, and pictures of kids are everywhere. But the most striking feature at Shear Kids is the hundreds of paper hearts hanging from the ceiling, row upon row, each bearing a name.

They’re the hearts that have allowed this kids’ salon to stay in business.

Owner Barb Nevils, a Kingfield resident, has been in the hair-cutting business for 25 years, but nothing prepared her for the outpouring from clients in the past several months, supporting her as she overcomes a serious heart ailment.

"I was amazed," she said. "It just really struck me that they cared enough to show their support in the way they have."

Working with children Nevils has specialized in cutting children’s hair for nine years. "Kids are much more fun," she said. "They don’t complain."

But they do wiggle.

Cutting kids’ hair requires speed, precision and patience, she said. "You have to do it fast, because they really don’t have the attention span." At Shear Kids, appointments are scheduled in 15-minute intervals.

Nevils allows each child to pick out a video or play with a Gameboy while she cuts. "She has a wonderful way with kids," said Laura Schmit, whose three children — ages 10, 7, and 4 — are lifelong clients of Nevils.

Owning a business had long been a dream. She was employed at a kids’ haircutting chain in 1999 when she found this space, convenient to a number of potential clients.

A single parent, Nevils took out a second mortgage on her home to lease the property and fix it up.

Plenty of heart About the same time she signed the lease, Nevils found out she had heart problems. "I was in here at 3 a.m. painting the shop, hooked up to a heart monitor," she said. She was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, caused by a bout of rheumatic fever as a child.

Doctors advised Nevils to have open-heart surgery to fix a damaged valve, a procedure that would require a 3-month recovery. If she took the break, she believed it would mean the end of her fledgling business.

She put off surgery and kept working.

Over the next year, Nevils got sicker. She was short of breath and slurring words, and, although she was already thin, she lost 20 pounds. Her condition was not lost on her clientele.

"She was getting thinner and grayer, and she was having trouble standing," Schmit said.

So Schmit and a number of other parents decided to take matters into their own hands. They approached businesses in the 50th-and-France area for help and wrote letters to 600 of Nevils’ clients.

Cindy Beuerlein said her children, ages 7 and 9, "won’t let anyone else cut their hair." She came up with the idea of asking patrons to buy an extra haircut to help out.

Their names are on the hearts that now hang in the shop. "Roses are red, violets are blue, Taylor and Grace have donated a haircut for you," says one.

Nevils was "overwhelmed" by the effort, she said. But as her health deteriorated, she had to cut back hours.

Her surgery was set for Feb. 20. Then she found out she was a candidate for something called mitral valvuloplasty, a less-invasive procedure that shortened her recovery time considerably.

While she still had to miss work, she was up and around within 3 weeks of the procedure.

In all, her clients raised almost $10,000 to help Barb stay in business. The money allowed her to pay rent and make payroll throughout her illness and recovery. The clients also provided meals for Nevils and her 9-year-old daughter while she was laid up.

"People do like to help when they’re asked," said Beuerlein.

But Nevils isn’t the only one who has benefited. The children who helped with the fundraising learned a valuable lesson, Schmit said: "We can make a difference, and we need to make a difference."

"We’ve saved her business, it’s going well, and she’s back at it."

The future Now two weeks back at work, Nevils is still thin, but she smiles frequently and bubbles with energy. She’s been in the shop part time, and she says she feels great. "Yesterday I ran for the first time in 3 years," she said.

Her business is also in good shape. Nevils said she’s breaking even, but that’s because the business is still new. "Children’s hair right now is the fastest-growing market in our industry," she said. Her 22-year-old daughter has come to work in the salon, and a fourth stylist recently started, Nevils said.

Nevils’ customers range in age from 2 months to teenagers, and even some adults. "I do about a dozen dads," Nevils said. They have given her the idea to expand. She hopes to open a barbershop at the back of the salon within a year, she said.

And the hearts? They’ll stay up for at least a few more weeks.

"We’re going to leave them up so that the kids can see their names," Nevils said. "And as a thank-you to everyone who helped out."

ShearKids 5013 Ewing Ave. S. tel. 612-929-8100 Owner: Barb Nevils Employees: 4 Year opened: 1999 Cost of a haircut: 0-10: $14.50; 11 and up: $16.50 To donate to help Nevils pay medical bills: Barb Nevils Fund P.O. Box 24343 Edina, MN 55424-0343