BY MARLO SCOTT, Columnist
This past January marked 30 years that Donna Bean, owner of Shear Essene Hair Salon, started one of the most successful hair salons in St. Petersburg.
The staying power of this pint-sized princess is due to her professionalism, respectfulness, her loving and kind demeanor, and of course, she is one classy lady but a force to be reckoned with when the shears are in her hands.
Bean has always loved hair and fashion for as long as she can remember. She would hold up in her bedroom cutting Barbie’s hair into trendy hairstyles. Barbie wasn’t spared the hot curlers or roller sets either.
“I would be having a blast and my parents would be having a fit,” she giggled as she went down memory lane.
Hailing from Long Island, N.Y., she came to St. Petersburg as a blushing new bride accompanied by the love of her life, Allan Bean. Leaving the safety of her parents’ home, she traveled over 1,200 miles to start a new life with her husband.
She worked in collections and even as a medical assistant, but neither job satisfied her soul. She remembered the good times she had as a child styling Barbie’s hair, so she approached her aunt named Juliette, who was a hairstylist, and told her she was interested in the field.
Well, Aunt Juliette could plainly see that she was meant for the profession with her sometimes gold, green and blonde tresses. She encouraged Bean to go for it, and she did never looking back.
Graduating from Wilfred Academy of Hair and Beauty Culture in 1980, she went on to apprentice with William Bennett III, or Dr. Frogue as he is most commonly known, until 1984.
“That’s when I stepped out,” said Bean, “which was definitely not the plan. It was my husband’s bright idea.”
Bean’s push out of the nest was one of the best things that could have happened to her early career. She went on to work for Salon Dejon, a predominately Caucasian nine station salon that was located inside and around the back of the Holiday Inn Hotel on 34th Street South.
“In that particular time in my career it was very scary. I felt a little alone only because there was no one there to guide me, and I was extremely busy because of word of mouth,” Bean explained.
The salon sat in the mist of three top business offices: Allstate Insurance was next door, Florida Power and Electric was in the front of the salon and the State of Florida had a three-story building in the back.
Bean hadn’t planned on working 24 hour days, but it sometimes happened.
“The most wonderful thing about it all was the patience of my husband who used to wait for me,” said Bean. “The moral support was priceless. When two people are working for the same goal, it affords the opportunity to lay a good foundation.”
When Salon Dejon closed its doors, her husband spoke with the hotel manager about renting a space in the same building. They were offered a totally renovated area that accommodated her needs perfectly.
Bean was allowed to pick out the carpet and she chose blue. She had previously purchased white Greek statues and columns from a salon in Clearwater. And with that, her salon was reminiscent of a Greek Island along the Mediterranean.
Mulling over the name Donna’s Boutique, she decided to go with Shear Essence because she didn’t want first time customers to only schedule appointments with the name on the building.
So on her grandmother’s birthday—January 17, 1984—this diminutive diva opened the doors to her new salon with only her aunt Juliet Franklin by her side. A year later her other aunt, Mitzi Hall, joined the team, and then came Carla and Cynthia.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Princess Donna has carved out a career that most stylists can only dream of. She and her salon have been featured in several magazines such as “Ebony,” “Jet,” “Essence” and “Shop Talk.”
She has worked for world-renown manufactures such as Alberto Culver who manufactured Alberto VO5, TRESemmé, Just For Me, St. Ives, Soft & Beautiful, Nexus and TBC just to name a few. She was also the platform artist for Motions for over a decade.
Let’s not overlook the celebrities she has made beautiful. For instance, Theresa Randle of “The Natalie Cole Story” and “Malcolm X” fame; the wife of former defensive lineman Refrigerator Perry from the Chicago Bears and several people in commercials got the royal treatment.
Bean has also held many hair shows with marvelous fashions. “I love fashion. Seeing people all dressed up is something that I admire. It was my way to give back and we had a lot of fun. I would make sure the models had a sit down breakfast and lunch that was catered by my friend Tammy Moore and her mom. Hotel rooms were provided and a pre-hair and fashion show dance was always held. I wanted to make sure I treated the models well and show over the top appreciation,” said the Princess.
Bean entertained the masses over an 11 year time frame, but she wants everyone to know that she didn’t do it all on her own. She’d like to thank some of the stylists: Angela Rodriguez, Angela Williams, Fatima, Freda, Robin from Atlanta, April Cazzi, Tomeka Oliver, Laurie Atwater, Faith, Ann Biggs, Andrew, Stanley, Tyrone, Islot and Beatrice.
“Thanks to you all for making Shear Essence your choice. And to anyone else I may have forgotten or accidently overlooked,” she said.
In the 1990s, the decision was made to relocate to a building Bean could purchase. She had seen her current shop for years and never paid much attention to it. One day she and her husband looked inside, and they were sold.
They had to maintain two buildings for over a year until the former veterinary hospital was transformed into a working salon.
“It was hard but God made it all possible. We moved by faith,” said the soft-spoken natural beauty.
Moving, however, is never easy. The entire staff: Bunny, Val, Dee Dee, Juliet, Mitzi and Alicia worked until close at the old salon one particular Saturday night, and then moved everything over to the new place. They settled in and unpacked and were open for business by Tuesday.
Fortunately, the old shop and the current building are less than a mile apart. Standing next to Church’s Chicken, 3425 22nd Ave S. has been the Princess’ castle since 1995.
In 2009, Bean basically retired to spend more time with her ailing husband who passed away in 2011.
“Life is a blessing,” she said. “I have wonderful memories of a great life together.”
Nowadays this Princess is enjoying semi-retirement while she continues to promote healthy hair care. Her advice for up and coming hairstylist is to build a substantial clientele and then set out for independency “because it’s scary with clientele, I couldn’t imagine it without one.”
She also warns young people to be consistent in their service, and to find a location with plenty of parking.
You have probably seen Princess Donna zipping around on her bicycle all over town. Fair or foul weather, she will not miss a day of exercise. You can find her on Sunday mornings at Blessed Trinity Catholic Church where Reverend Wayne C. Genereux presides.
“After 30 years, I’m still in the game and scoring. I would like to send goodness and prosperity to everyone who was affiliated with us; it’s been a fabulous experience,” she finished.
The Court of Princess Donna
Diva-in-waiting, Mitzi Hall has been in the Princess’ Court for almost the whole 30 years.
A native of Bermuda, this third generation stylist came to Florida by way of New York.
Like her niece, the Princess, Hall has a loving and kind demeanor and is the upmost professional. Coming from a background in corporate America, her professionalism complemented the newly established salon; therefore, she was beckoned to the court to be an office manager.
However, it wasn’t long before she decided to become a stylist. She graduated from the cosmetology program at Pinellas Technical Education Center (pTEC) and started taking clients of her own.
Under the tutelage of the princess and her aunt, she quickly became a seasoned stylist well beyond her years behind the chair. She feels the most exciting thing about doing hair nowadays is that women are embracing their natural hair more and are coming into the salon with a healthy head of virgin hair.
“Princess Donna has taught me so much, and I love the salon. When I retire, it will be from Shear Essence,” Hall proclaimed.
If you can’t find Hall in the salon, you’ll probably find her in her garden. She also enjoys boating, theme parks, home décor and spoiling her grandchildren.
Delphine Griffin (Dee Dee)
Starting at a young age styling French rolls, this 1989 graduate of Gibbs High School decided to enroll at pTEC to obtain a cosmetology license.
She caught the eye of the Princess Donna while performing in a hair show hosted by the students. She saw character in this up and coming hairstylist and knew that she would fit into the Royal Court well.
Well, it was hard to miss Griffin since she was dressed in bell-bottoms, platform shoes and had vinyl LPs hanging from her outfit. And after 20 years of employment at Shear Essence, Griffin still comes in with eye-catching outfits.
“This salon was so pretty at the Holiday Inn, and I fell in love with the atmosphere,” she said.
Outside of work, Griffin has her hands full taking care of her elderly father and selling Mary Kay Cosmetics and prepaid legal services.
For people thinking about a career as a cosmetologist, Griffin points out that they must work well with the public.
“I have always been real with the client and that has worked for me,” she said.
Griffin attends First Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church where Pastor Wallace Elliott presides. In her spare time she enjoys attending workshops and of course being a diva-in-waiting at Shear Essence.
Styling has always been a passion of Valentina Baytops. The Boca Ciega graduate decided to enroll at pTEC and received her cosmetology license in 1995.
This mother of two has been a member of Princess Donna’s Royal Court for almost two decades, and feels as if the other divas-in-waiting are her sisters because they are such a happy family.
You can find Boykins and her small family worshiping Sundays at the Pinellas Community Church where Pastor Mark Canfield watches over his flock.
What advice does she have for new stylists? She encourages them to stay focused and to stay true to the hair if it really is their passion.
The next member of the Royal Court, Jacquelyn Smith, prides herself on her creativity when it comes to styling hair. She graduated high school from Northeast and then from Lorraine’s Beauty Academy in 1995. She soon became a member of the Sheer Essence team.
“I love being a stylist because it is a very flexible job and I can set my own hours and scheduled things around my family life. I also enjoy the interaction between the stylist and the client. Sometimes you can build everlasting friendships,” Smith said.
This mother of three can be found in the pews of the 20th Street Church of Christ where Brother Robert E. Smith is the pastor.
In her free time, Smith enjoys shopping, sewing and anything that involves creativity. Her advice to the upstart stylist is to find a veteran stylist that will mentor them. Also, to take a lot of classes to keep their minds focused on their career.
And last but not least in the Royal Court is Alicia Dillard. From Barbie dolls to little cousins, from as young as 13 years old, Dillard has been cutting, coloring and styling hair, even on her mother.
Originally from Detroit, she graduated from Waynesville Heights High School. This diva-in-waiting started her career in cosmetology in Cleveland.
Not only does Dillard love being a hairstylist, she loves sitting a client down in her chair and transforming not only their hair, but their mind and body.
“I truly promote healthy eating and drinking plenty of water,” she said. “I am a people person and being a hairstylist is a personable job.”
Dillard joined the royal court in 1993. “Princess Donna really embraced me and gave me an opportunity, for which I am so grateful. Shear Essence is a very professional and family-oriented salon. I love the ladies there and have always felt at home.”
In Dillard’s spare time away from the salon she enjoys the beach, reading, skating and loving on her dog Doobie. “He is better than a child,” said Dillard, “because he’s obedient and loyal.”
Dillard also enjoys eating Ben & Jerry’s Red Velvet Cake Ice Cream and watching movies on Netflix. This mother of two loves the life of a hairstylist because it gives her the freedom and flexibility to live life the way she wants to.
To give your hair the royal treatment, call Shear Essence at 727-328-7189 and ask for Princess Donna or anyone in the royal court.