In 1965, gas was 31 cents per gallon, Lyndon B. Johnson was President, and a haircut at LaDonna Hair Fashions was $5.
The salon has come a long way since then — moving from Fort Walton Beach to a small motel room-turned salon in Destin, and finally to the Gulf Plaza shopping center where it’s been since 1987. It has seen generations of residents and seasonal visitors go through the cycle of life.
“I used to cut boat captain David Knight’s hair,” said owner Donna Stuart. “I first cut his hair when he was 15 and in the ninth grade. He passed away last year, but he wouldn’t let anyone else touch his hair all those years.”
Now, it’s on to a new chapter for Stuart and her team, as LaDonna’s Hair Salon will be closing its doors next month after 53 years in business.
Stuart took over the salon after her mother, LaVerne Williams, passed away in 1974. It has always been called LaDonna’s, a combination of her and her mother’s first names.
“This is a place where everyone wants to come,” Stuart said. “The hair salon is where people receive a positive touch, rather than going to the dentist or the doctor, which is considered more of a negative touch.”
She credits the success of the salon to her employees, many of whom have been working at LaDonna’s for decades.
“I give so much of the credit to Julie Sadler, who has been the manager here for 20 years. I’ve been able to work behind the chair doing what I love without worrying about the books,” Stuart said.
As the salon’s owner and expert Redken-trained hair stylist herself, Stuart was never one to breath down the necks of the hairdressers she employed over the years, encouraging them to come into their own as stylists.
“I started cutting hair here when I was 18,” said Tracy Hanson. “Donna took me under her wing and she took a chance on me. She’s always been there for me and has always loved and encouraged me.”
Stuart decided to make the difficult decision to close the salon because the owner of Gulf Plaza is trying to sell it, despite its stuck-in-the-'70s façade.
“It was kind of abrupt,” Stuart said. “I couldn’t sell the business and we don’t have a lease here, so I made the decision to close.”
Stuart said she is so grateful for the hairstylists and clients over the years that have helped mold and shape LaDonna’s into what it became.
“The best thing that has kept my salon going is the people. God has blessed me in that the right people came to me,” said Stuart.
When the salon closes in March, longtime hairstylist Darla Smith will work at Destin Harbor Hair Company, Hanson will work at Dun Salon in Fort Walton Beach, and Sadler will be taking a vacation and enjoying time with her grandchildren.