DOWNINGTOWN >> It’s a long way from the Czech Republic to southeastern Pennsylvania.
For Erika Wheeler, who is opening her new hair salon in the borough on Saturday, Oct. 21, there’s no place she’d rather be.
“I love Pennsylvania, it reminds me of the Czech Republic,” Wheeler said recently as she was preparing to open the new salon in the 100 block of West Lancaster Avenue.
Wheeler came to the U.S. in 2000 as an au pair, moving to Chicago after spending a year and a half in London where she also was an au pair.
Erika Wheeler, owner of Hair Salon Erika in the 100 block of West Lancaster Avenue in Downingtown.
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“I wanted to learn English,” she said of her decision to leave her home country for London. “It’s in my head - if you want a good job you have to learn English.”
Once she was satisfied with her progress, Wheeler knew where she wanted to go next.
“I’m ready for the United States,” she told the au pair agency. “It was my dream.”
She finished the au pair program in 2001 and moved east to attend the Empire Beauty School in West Chester, graduating in 2002
Wheeler worked for 11 years at Great Clips in Thorndale. She left for another salon in a move that didn’t work out.
After a while out of circulation, Wheeler began hearing from old customers.
“Erika, where are you at,” Wheeler said was their reaction when she saw them doing errands. “Everybody remembered me from Great Clips. It’s very difficult to find a stylist who treats someone the way I do. My customers tell me I’m very precise. I tell them, ‘you aren’t leaving until I like it, too.’”
Wheeler said she has a customer base of around 100, which provides a solid foundation for her new business.
She styles everyone from children to senior citizens, men and women. Families are her main market.
“Families are so busy today,” she said. “They want to look good for their jobs. I don’t do the crazy stuff with the blue or green hair. Usually, it’s business cuts or whatever is in fashion.”
That said, even Wheeler is caught off guard when she sees some of the styles people have with their hair these days.
“A few times I have had to say, ‘it will not look good,’ ” Wheeler said. “Sometimes I think I have seen it all, but then something surprises me.”
Wheeler said she has invested over $20,000 to start the shop on Downingtown’s main thoroughfare with two cutting stations and a shampoo area. That investment will be worth it Saturday when some of her old clients find their way to her new location and she starts seeing new customers.
“Hairstyling started as a job, but over the years it has become my hobby,” she said. “It has always made me happy to see my customers ... It’s become like a big family.”
-Reprinted with permission from The Daily Local News - Oct. 21st 2017