Carolyn Dickson is everything you think of when you think of west Texas women; She’s elegant, she’s honest, she’s a family woman, she’s full of grace and she keeps her religion as the foundation on which she’s built Carolyn’s Beauty Shop at 1206 North Broadway. The location of her shop is appropriately located in the heart of Ballinger, located alongside or down the road from Ballinger staples such as the Skate Palace, Seventh Street Baptist Church, First United Methodist Church, Beefmaster Steakhouse and Ballinger Memorial Hospital District. Dickson is a Ballinger product, born and raised here and graduated from Ballinger High School.
Dickson has watched the city prosper and face challenges over the last five decades, but has always triumphed, “I’ve seen a lot over the years. I started this business in 1969 and I’ve laughed with my customers when they’ve had good things happen in their lives and I’ve cried and prayed with them when they have faced rough times.”
Numerous businesses have started and failed over the last half-century but Carolyn’s has soldiered on.
When Carolyn’s first opened in 1969, the population of Ballinger was approximately 4,200 people. Today the population stands at an estimated 3,731 and Carolyn’s Beauty Shop has never missed a beat. Dickson has always been steadfast, watching 5 decades of changes, the big front window in her shop a witness to the life flowing through Ballinger. With her shop on Broadway, it’s not stretch to presume that every student who has graduated from Ballinger High School since 1969 has passed in front of her shop at one time or another.
Dickson always deals honestly and respectfully with her customers. You may not be ready to hear the truth at times, but that’s what you get when you talk to Dickson, regardless of the subject. That’s important and something that customers truly appreciate. Trust is just as much of a currency as a dollar bill is when it comes to creating a loyal customer base. Dickson has cared for multiple generations of the same family. Some of the customers she started with in 1969 have brought back their children and grandchildren, “It’s important to take care of the people that come in through that door. I truly care for them and I consider it an honor when they bring in their children or grandchildren.”
One thing that has kept her business going strong is keeping up with innovations and technology, “There used to be a time when you had to damage dark black hair to make it blond. I’d tell people that I’m not going to damage their hair to color it. Sometimes they’d tell me that they had someone that would do it and I’d tell them that that was probably who they needed to go to. I just have to be honest with them and had to stick to my principles because it’s not worth it to damage someone’s hair just to color it. Many times they came back to me to fix their hair after it had been damaged when they went to someone else. These days it’s a lot easier to color hair. The chemicals are different, the shampoos and conditioners are different, it’s been a whole new ballgame and that’s a good thing.”
The most fundamental part of Dickson, the core of her life is her religion. She’s a proud, steadfast Christian and she participates in the Kairos Prison Ministry, “The other women and I bake cookies and sandwiches and send them into the prisons and jails with our husbands and Gary Watson (pastor of Ballinger’s First United Methodist Church). We’re the ‘outside angels’ and we try to do our part to help the inmates out. Many times they just want to know that someone cares about them.” She cares as much for complete strangers, people whom she’s never met and might not ever meet, just as much as she does her friends. One look into her eyes when she’s talking about the prison ministry or some of the hard times her customers have gone through and you know that she is being absolutely open and honest and that compassion drives her.
Dickson’s work in her beauty shop is more than just hair and skincare, it’s self-confidence and self-esteem, “People can come in that door having the worst day and they sit in this chair for an hour, get their hair cut and styled, get some skincare, talk about what is going on in their life and they’re usually in a better mood and feeling better about themselves when they leave.”
The empathy and compassions that Dickson feels for people compliments the skill of her hands and mind, “I truly love my customers. I love them coming in here and our discussions. I love helping them feel better about themselves and seeing them with confidence because each one of them is beautiful.”
Sometimes her care for her customers doesn’t end when they pass away, “I’ve gone to the funeral home and taken care of my customers after they have passed away. I’m there to the end because I care about them. A lot of times the family wants the hair of the deceased to look just it did in life and I do that for them.”
Dickson is still going strong as she enters fifty-first year of her career, listening, laughing, praying and loving the people she’s come to know through her work, many who are more like family than simply customers. The shop and Dickson are destined to continue to bear witness to Ballinger’s history and hear the stories with every conversation each time someone walks through that storied front door. That door that has stood as a silent sentry that allows history to enter every time it’s opened into the building filled with skill, compassion and caring.