AUBURN | When Chansa Heiman was a little girl in Zambia, she loved playing with her cousins and fixing up their hair. Little did she know that what she enjoyed as a child would become her adult passion.
Heiman, a professional hair stylist who lives in Scipio, opened Alter Image Salon in downtown Auburn's Genesee Center mall earlier this month after six years of fashioning men's, women's and children's hair in the area.
The tall windows of the tidy six-chair salon, in the heart of Auburn's business district, provide a bright atmosphere for Heiman's first solo business venture.
"It's open," she said. "People can see in and you can see out. Downtown is coming up now; there is a lot going on and there is good potential for walk-ins."
Prior to opening the shop, she worked for a local franchise salon, and was always eager to one day establish a professional boutique where she can create lasting relationships with her clientele.
She hopes to fill the salon's five booths with contract stylists. Heiman works with fellow hairstylist Kathleen Butler now, and has begun to interview prospective co-workers.
"We're looking for a professional atmosphere with a high level of service and who are professional so customers are comfortable," said Chansa's husband, John Heiman, who helped her organize the business.
A patient person, Heiman took her time getting her salon up and running. For the last two years, she stored equipment, chairs and build-out materials in her basement and garage.
"We had to do something. I wanted my house back," John joked.
Last November, she selected the Genesee Street location and worked with Maureen Riester, a business development specialist with the Cayuga Economic Development Agency, to assure business plans, loans and permits were in order before opening the salon.
"They were meticulous in their planning and calculating. I'm sure they'll be very successful," Riester said.
The Heimans said Riester was instrumental in finding the salon's location, helping with financial projections and putting them in touch with accountants and lawyers.
"We're a giant liaison," Riester said of CEDA. "We help people try to create wealth and jobs and I try to keep a good handle on what properties are available downtown."
The shop's highly visible location makes it an ideal "lunch hour" appointment for downtown professionals to attend to haircuts and blow-outs, Riester said, "so they can go back to the office looking great."
Heiman is a generalist, and especially enjoys applying highlights: "I find them relaxing (because) you get in the zone." At this time, she doesn't offer manicure or pedicure services.
But she does do make-up and up-dos for pre-wedding bridal parties. On one recent Saturday, her shop was filled with nine bridesmaids and flower girls, and of course the belle of the ball, the bride.
Heiman handled the entire entourage by herself.
"Bridal parties are fun," she said. "I've always not been the kind of person who gets stressed. I look at bright side."