Jill Woodward (top left) and the staff of Carefree Hair Design. "The heart is to show what a big heart Big R has," says Woodward. Photo by Bonni Haskell.
Occasionally, in a medium that thrives off less than exultant news and tends to revel in the negative, a story comes along that reaffirms that on some occasions, everything can turn out all right in the end.
Carefree Hair Salon and its owner, Jill Woodward, is one of those stories.
It didnâ€™t look that way several months ago when a representative from Big R informed Woodward that the corporation was ending Carefreeâ€™s lease, and the long-time salon would have to relocate. The store has plans to expand and said that it needed the space Carefree is occupying.
The Big R Corporation owns the property in Colville that Carefree has resided on for over 37 years.
When Big R was built five years ago, the Washington State Department of Transportation required that Jammin' Java, the coffee building located adjacent to Carefree, relocate so Big R would have more room to expand.
Woodward says the salon was able to survive that transition and remain where they were, enjoying a neighborly relationÂ¬ship with Big R.
But when word arrived that Carefreeâ€™s lease would not be renewed and the long-time business would have to be out by the end of the year, WoodÂ¬ward didnâ€™t know what to do. At age 66, she is only three to four years away from retiring and was not looking forward to the prospect of re-establishing her business some place else.
What to do?
â€śIf I were 20 years younger, Iâ€™d go for it,â€ť says Woodward. â€śBut Iâ€™m not. I was looking at $10,000 at a minimum just to get a new place ready, if I could find the right space. About 50 percent of our clientele here is walk-ins because we are on Main Street. My employees were getting stressed out, because they didnâ€™t want to leave, but they were afraid they wouldnâ€™t have jobs at the end of the year.â€ť
To further complicate matters, Woodward had suffered a series of health setbacks, including cancer, open-heart surgery and a broken ankle sustained last year.
She was still paying off medical bills on top of the expenses of running a business and making ends meet.
It is no great observation that with the added challenge of being forced to move her business, Woodward was feeling more than a little overwhelmed.
Longtime Carefree employee Kim Clear encouraged her not to give up.
â€śShe told me I should fight it, that I should appeal to the Big R corporate board to allow us to stay,â€ť says Woodward.
With patient perseverance, Woodward, Clear and the Carefree staff rallied their customers, asking them to sign a petition advocating for the business to be able to remain. Some clients went a step further, writing letters to Big R in support of Woodward. One woman who signed the petition says that she came all the way from Metaline Falls to have her hair done at Carefree. Another customer wrote that he travels 84 miles one way just to have his hair cut at the salon.
The petition itself packed a punchâ€”it was eight pages long and was thick with signatures and testimonials.
Community loyalty and persuasion paid off.
Several weeks after Woodward submitted the petition, she received word that Big R had agreed to extend Carefreeâ€™s lease and hold off on their expansion until Woodward is ready to retire.
Chuck Schmidt, a corporate partner in Big R stores, which has 10 franchises around the Northwest in Washington, Idaho and Montana, said that while Colvilleâ€™s Big R does eventually need the room to expand its operations, renewing Carefreeâ€™s lease â€śWas the right thing to do.â€ť
â€śItâ€™s a small community and we want to work with her (Woodward),â€ť says Schmidt. â€śIt was obvious that the community supports them, so we thought we should too.â€ť
As for Woodward, she certainly harbors no ill will or hard feelings at allâ€”itâ€™s all about gratitude and appreciation.
â€śI mean, itâ€™s their place (Big Râ€™s),â€ť she says. â€śBut I am so pleased and thankful that they let us stay. A lot of people showed compassion in helping us stay right were we are.â€ť