Salon is here for hair, community
Debra Schroepfer, owner and operator of Beach Comber Hair Studio, has witnessed her community’s growth — from a follicular perspective — for the last 40 years.
“I told myself it would be fun to do something when the time comes, but the time came so quickly,” Schroepfer said of trying to celebrate her business’s 40th anniversary amid the whirlwind of 2020. “It’s hard to get excited about work if you never know if you’re going to be working.”
The 67-year-old business owner said her enthusiasm for her community, however, cannot be allayed and appreciates the salon as a conduit for connection — now, more than ever.
“Before COVID-19, when you wanted to see your friends, you could go get lunch and dinner. Now, (my work) is all about seeing the people I want to see and visiting, talking and doing the counseling,” Schroepfer said, referring to the intimate conversations that take place between clients and stylists in front of salon mirrors. “I help people work through hardships and vice versa.”
Schroepfer maintained that her salon does not operate to make money, but rather to maintain said friendships.
A vet tech turned stylist’s story
Schroepfer was born and raised in West Covina before attending cosmetology school at 16 in Southern California in 1972.
Schroepfer said she was given a scholarship to attend the school at a young age because of her artistic abilities.
After studying to become a veterinary technician in Sacramento, Schroepfer signed a five-month ski lease in Tahoe in 1979. At the lease’s end, Schroepfer wondered why she would ever leave.
After working for others, Schroepfer opened Beach Comber in Incline Village in 1981.
Three years later, Schroepfer joined Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue, where she met her husband and many of her future clientele.
Friends, family, animals — Tahoe Community
Schroepfer’s clientele reflect her own life progression. At the beginning, Schroepfer said she cut and styled hair for young women like herself. When she became a mother, her clients became mothers and children.
Schroepfer herself is a mother of three women — 32, 28 and 24 years old. Schroepfer said the latter two children participated in the elementary education Spanish immersion program started in North Lake Tahoe in 1997.
Now, with children grown and demographics changing, Schroepfer said Beach Comber Salon services 75% men.
“Some days, I cut men’s hair all day,“ Schroepfer said. ”I like the conversation and I like doing no chemicals.“
True to her animal-loving self, Schroepfer has pets of her own and welcomes her client’s pets into her current business at 3080 N. Lake Blvd., Tahoe City, for the last 14 years.
Ray O’Brian is a retired North Lake Tahoe Fire Captain and currently the Dolby Estate caretaker. He met Schroepfer while serving on Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue.
O’Brian said he likes going to Schroepfer for regular cuts because he can bring his 6-year-old golden retriever Jackson with him.
“Debra goes right to her jar and tosses it throughout the studio ’to make him work for it,’ as she says,” O’Brian explained. “She addresses him first and then she asks me if I am getting the usual.”
O’Brian said Jackson can interact with other clients during the appointment and gets another piece of jerky before his owner checks out.
O’Brian was born and raised in North Lake Tahoe. Schroepfer has witnessed his growth — follicle and otherwise — for over 20 years.
“She’s a therapist and a stylist,” O’Brian said. “We talk about everything. Nothing is not covered. Throughout the years, we talk about our families and current events, what’s happening around town — all of it.”
O’Brian said when salons first closed, he just called Schroepfer’s cell directly.
“Debra is a personal friend, too, so it was easy to call her,” O’Brian said.
O’Brian said he and Schroepfer’s rapport runs deep. If he forgets to bring payment, she trusts him to pay later.
O’Brian brings Schroepfer her favorite, Tahoe House cinnamon rolls, but he’s not the only client who brings food to his appointments with the longtime stylist.
Gail High, Schroepfer’s client and friend since the mid-1980s, also packs a lunch for her appointments. Before COVID-19, High saw Schroepfer every six weeks for nearly 30 years.
“I always look forward to going in just to chat,” High said. “She’s such a model of energy, generosity and creativity.”
Now, High has stopped coloring her hair so the appointments are farther apart, but the conversation has only been enriched by experiences together in and outside of the salon.
High said when she hosts events at her longtime family-owned lakefront home, Schroepfer can be found in the kitchen helping.
High said Schroepfer’s compassionate nature and attention to detail helps curate a hospitable and aesthetically engaging space.
“We have a little guest house and she found the perfect piece of wood for the handle for the front door,” High said. “I like seeing what she’s done in her home and the place where she works now — they should be paying her to be a gardener.”
Schroepfer said she fully intends to water more plants, feed more pets and cut more hair, despite increasing operating costs and COVID-19 related restrictions.
“No way I am quitting my business,” Schroepfer said. “I like my friends.”
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer for the Sierra Sun and The Union a sister publication of the Sun.
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With the economy in California opened back up, businesses throughout the region are finding it difficult to attract employees.