It’s not difficult to find a wig store in Detroit. It might not even be difficult to own a wig store in Detroit. But keeping one running in a location with one of the highest business turnover rates in the city takes perseverance.
Eastern Wig & Hair Company, 1400 Woodward Ave., has been turning the heads of passersby for 30 years.
Bright red afros, sleek, long styles and everything in between are displayed in the store’s window, enticing people of all ages, races and genders to stop in, experiment with their appearance and have a little fun.
“We have hundreds of wigs displayed and thousands in stock,” says store manager Mike Lee. Wigs range widely in style, texture, color, brand and price.
Wigs have gotten more realistic to the eye and touch in recent years. One can find a wig in a rich shade, light or dark, with natural-looking highlights blended in.
A synthetic wig starts at $30-$40, while name brands often run up to $100. Wigs made of human hair often cost $50-$120, depending on length.
Lee says the prices are relative to the quality of the wigs, and Eastern Wig & Hair prides itself on both.
“We carry high-end items that you would find in the top wig boutiques around the world,” he says. “But a lot of people don’t realize that. The perception is that because we’re in Detroit we would have low-end products.”
The quality and pricing keep customers like Denise Gibson coming.
“They’ve got the best prices in town,” the Detroiter says. “I’ve been downtown for 12 years now; this is my favorite store. I love the selection.”
Dawn Bell, a licensed beautician and employee at the store, says it’s a fun place to work.
“We have all kinds of people here,” she says.
Recently, she says, the store has noticed a more diverse clientele. On any given day, exotic dancers and government workers shop shoulder to shoulder. Although the store has never done a survey, employees agree that the majority of their business is done with the African-American community.
Bell says the store attracts stars as well.
Eastern Wig & Hair Company has fitted stars such as Anita Baker, Jennifer Holliday, Martha Reeves, Aretha Franklin and the late Aaliyah. The store also is a popular stop for local musicians, visiting theatre groups, opera performers and even the cast of Riverdance. The company has clients as far-flung as Texas, Florida, California and Denmark.
Lee knows why the customers always come back.
“It’s the quality,” he says. “We know what we’re doing.”
“Wigs have really been gaining in popularity recently,” Lee says. “People used to buy them for medical reasons, but now more people are experimenting for fun. They’re really convenient. Wearing a wig is almost like wearing a hat. You can switch it up, take it off and not deal with your hair at all.”
Lee says although businesses in his area tend to come and go, Eastern Wig & Hair Company is here to stay.
The store, which is owned by Sue Lee (no relation to Mike), opened for business in 1972 across the street from where it is now. Since then, it has seen scores of surrounding businesses come and go, and has been buffeted by the drastic changes in Detroit’s economy.
“A lot of ma-and-pop stores are gone for good and for different reasons,” Lee says. “We’re survivors, though. So, for us, there’s no incentive to leave.”
In 1998, the store sustained damage — and a loss of business — from the implosion of the Hudson’s building. The owners were compensated for the damage.
Currently, the store is working to renovate the outside of its building to enhance the aesthetic appearance and commercial character.
While wigs are created worldwide, almost all of the products in Eastern Wig & Hair Company are manufactured in Asia.
“Most of our wigs are from China, Korea and Indonesia,” Lee says. “Many Asian women are able to sell their hair to wig companies because it’s primarily long, straight and easy to dye. European hair costs more because of different textures.”
The store also sells hair accessories, shampoo, nail polish and nail accessories and wig care products.
Even though wig stores seem to be a dime a dozen in Detroit, Eastern Wig & Hair Company doesn’t worry about the competition.
“We really are more of a boutique while many places around are mass-consumer-type stores,” Lee says. “I think a lot of times people don’t know what they’re doing in the beauty industry. We do, and that makes a difference.”Megan Frye is an editorial intern at Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]