By Tim Altork
If you were trying to come up with a name for a fictitious small-town southern hair dresser, you could probably try for days and never come up with one more perfect than Eucal Siggers.
And that’s where real life outshines fiction, because Eucal (pronounced like the first part of the word “ukelele” – YOU-cle) was a fixture in Roanoke for decades and her salon, Eucal’s Cutters, has been an institution here for nearly 75 years.
But every good thing comes to an end eventually, and Eucal’s is no different. Ann Shelnutt, who took over Eucal’s after Siggers passed away in 2002, has decided to close the doors to the salon forever.
It’s the end of a hairdressing era in Roanoke (but not for the Siggers family by a long shot). And with Shelnutt hanging up her scissors to take care of her ailing husband Ed, to hear her tell it might be the end of Ed as well.
“I don’t know if he really appreciates me being home all the time, but he’s stuck. He doesn’t have a choice,” Shelnutt said with a howling laugh.
A beautiful friendship
You hear that cackling laugh echo through the mostly empty Main Street building that was the final home to Eucal’s, and you can’t help but wonder just how many times those walls heard that laugh and hundreds of others like it. And you wonder about the stories that triggered those giggles.
Eucal started in the hair-care business as a young lady, rolling her neighbors’ hair in bobby pins for a dime per person in Roanoke’s Mill Village. She pulled together $98 and used that money to open up her first shop in the late 1940s. The home of Eucal’s Cutters moved around over the years, but in its 1960s and ’70s heyday at its now-demolished location on the south end of Main Street, Eucal’s was a bustling 15-hour-a-day salon, with nearly a dozen hairdressers catering to an endless line of Roanoke’s residents.
That was the setting for a 19-year-old Ann Shelnutt, fresh out of beauty school at Opelika Tech, to first set foot inside in search for a job. The date was February 9, 1968. Eucal hired her on the spot, marking the beginning of a 35-year friendship.
“Anybody that walked into her salon that wanted a job, she hired,” Shelnutt recalled. “She hired people to clean up for her, and after she saw they were good workers, then she would train them to do hair.”
In her first few weeks on the job Shelnutt noticed that Eucal, from time to time, would invite many of the other ladies in the salon to walk a few doors down Main Street and join Eucal for a Coke at the City Pharmacy.
“Everybody got to go to City Pharmacy and have a Coke with Eucal, but me,” Shelnutt said. “And she never asked me to go. And I thought, ‘I wonder why she doesn’t ask me to go have a Coke with her.’”
Well, it took a few weeks, but that day finally arrived. And it was not the welcome-to-the-innner-circle moment that she had envisioned.
“Come to find out when she took you to the City Pharmacy, she was straightening you out,” Shelnutt said, punctuated by that signature laugh.
Ann had been spending time outside the shop, mingling with the downtown crowds and visiting other places on Main Street. So Eucal told her if she wanted to make money she had to stay in the shop and take customers.
It was the first of many lessons imparted to Shelnutt from Eucal, almost all of which stayed with Shelnutt throughout her 55-year career.
“I loved Eucal and she loved me,” Shelnutt said.
Passing the torch
As the times changed and downtown Roanoke changed with it, one constant was Eucal’s Cutters. Many of the hairdressers who worked there and trained under Eucal set out on their own and continued down their own paths in the business.
By the time Eucal reached the twilight of her career, it was just Siggers and Shelnutt keeping the salon open and running things on a much smaller scale. It stayed that way until Eucal’s death in 2002.
“Eucal worked in November, and she was buried in December. She was 84 when she passed,” Shelnutt said.
And that might have been the end of Eucal’s Cutters. But Eucal’s son John – who has made a name for himself and the Siggers family in the hairdressing world in Atlanta – made sure Shelnutt didn’t let that happen.
Shortly after Eucal’s death, John visited Shelnutt at the salon.
“I knew what was coming,” Shelnutt said. “He said, ‘Everything in this building from the front door to the back is yours.’”
Shelnutt’s initial protests fell on deaf ears, although once she decided to keep Eucal’s open she did convince the Siggers family to take some money for the business.
And for the past 20 years “Eucal’s Cutters” was the sign on the window, but Ann Shelnutt was the sole stylist keeping the name alive. For Shelnutt’s part, she kept the spirit of Eucal’s alive as well, in everything she did with the business.
When she was asked how much of Eucal’s approach to running a salon she adopted, she responded, “All of it. I did everything like she did.”
A family legacy
While Eucal’s Cutters is no more, the Siggers name continues to build a powerful legacy in the hairdressing industry. John and his wife Carol operate one of the most heralded salons in Atlanta, with a line of hair-care products, a hairdressing school and a photography studio as part of the business.
John and Carol’s son Chad, along with his wife Amy, also are carrying on the same legacy at Siggers Hairdressers alongside John and Carol.
That’s three generations of Siggers that have found success in the hair-care business.
“And it all started right here in little old Roanoke,” Shelnutt said.
A poetic ending
The final note on this tale of the Siggers and Mrs. Ann Shelnutt is the poetic nature of the closing date for Eucal’s Cutters. Ann Shelnutt began her life at Eucal’s on February 9, 1968, and closed the shop on February 9, 2023 – 55 years to the day after she began.
Through all those years there was one piece of Eucal’s advice that wove itself through everything.
“Before you can make a living as a hairdresser you’ve got to get that person to like you,” Shelnutt relayed. “She just loved, loved, loved people.”
By all accounts it’s a trait that Shelnutt held as well.
“I’ve been doing hair 55 years. I’ve met a lot of people and got so close to all of them,” Shelnutt said.
It’s a fitting end to a full career for this small-town southern hairdresser.