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Shop of hair

The Michael Keenan story. He will forever dewll in our hearts and memories.

Little Shop of Hair

A retro journey to Michael Keenan's Outer Edge and back.
Sep 07, 2000
By Vanja Thompson
831... Tales From the Area Code

Hair designer extraordinaire? Enigmatic raconteur? Playful purveyor of kitsch? Gentle negotiator? At least one thing about Michael Keenan is certain: He’s a character.

Keenan is the colorful owner of the Outer Edge Hair Studio in Monterey, just off of Alvarado Street on Bonifacio. Nestled between the Monterey Book Company and the Blue Moon Trading Company, the business hardly looks like a hair salon. With no sign hanging outside and a window full of retro Americana collectibles, the only clue to the establishment’s true nature is that through the glass are visible the open doors of two vintage refrigerators, their shelves full of hair styling tools and products. "It’s playful. It’s confusing," Keenan says.

Jessica Pinney, Michael’s protégé of sorts, describes the shop as "a hole-in-the-wall full of a bunch of cool stuff from the ''40s and ''50s."

Bicycles and eggbeaters hang from the ceiling, along with lamps, chairs and television sets. The shelves are packed with martini sets and porcelain figurines, while random pieces of clothing--a silk robe, an aqua bathing suit--are draped over the furniture. One of the front windows sports Jessica’s "Everything Pink" design, an assortment of collectibles united only by their rosy hue. A pink Leonard stove from the ''50s sits under a pink platter and a Jackie-O style hat, which is draped over one of two pink lamp stands.

Keenan buys the merchandise, and Pinney arranges it. "Arranges it?" Keenan teases. "She has an illness! She moves the whole shop!"

The shop is surprisingly clean considering the flux of flying hair and its propensity for lodging itself in the plentiful nooks and crannies. So what’s the story? Is the Outer Edge a collectibles shop or a beauty salon?

An hour and a half and nearly half a pack of Basic Menthol Ultra Lights 100s into our interview, Keenan is still enthusiastically talking about his discussions with clients about religion and politics, the bargaining lesson he gave two college students who were going to pay full price for a couch in the window, and his experience with other businesses, positive thinking and feng shui.

"We want to be part of the community and a little hub; not just a hair salon," Keenan says.

Keenan’s next appointment, Ed Romero from Prunedale, waits patiently but seems more interested in hearing the stories than in getting his hair cut. Romero says he stopped in to see Keenan because he saw "that washing machine out front. It’s like, the barber is in."

"It’s my calling card," Keenan explains, pointing to the turquoise, chrome and white Philco washer just outside the entrance. "When I’m not here, Jessica doesn’t lug it outside; it’s too heavy. So when it’s out, people know I’m in town." The calling card comes in handy: Keenan is only in 10 days per month, from his home in Kansas City, Kansas. He is preparing for a move to New York, but says it won’t affect his commute at all. He used to travel here from Florida.

Keenan bought the space about 10 years ago, and began to add the collectibles five years later. The idea was to supplement his income. As it turns out, the collectibles only account for approximately 25 percent of the business, but serve as "a good hook. People think if you’re hip enough to do this, your thoughts on design must be pretty good too," he says.

As for Pinney, she came in for a haircut several years ago and a conversation with Keenan convinced her she wanted to sign on. A couple of years later, after having acquired her license and a clientele, she convinced Keenan--and it did take convincing--to let her join him.

"I tell people, this is not my shop," he says. "It’s Jessica’s shop. She’s the best person I’ve ever worked with. When I’m out of town, my level of worry is nothing."

Keenan and Pinney’s rapport with their clientele is as priceless as some of the curios lining the shop’s walls. "We’re like any hair salon, except that we don’t kiss butt," Pinney says as she cut my hair during an appointment. Indeed. As my natural curls reached their maximum voluminous state of frizz whilst being blown straight, she giggled and loudly exclaimed, "Vavoom!"

Michael says he has a "strong heartfelt relationship" with his clients. "We never make fun. You know you’re safe in here."

I ask Michael how his feng shui experience is put to use in the shop. "Are you kidding? Things are too fenged up in here to be feng shuied!"

Before I leave I can’t resist asking about the Betty Grable-style aqua bathing suit draped over the embossed vinyl armchair I’ve been occupying. "Put it on!" Michael says excitedly. "Go put it on!" I decline, and am all the more relieved I did when he tells me that 10 or so people have tried it on.

"Every one of them looked fabulous," he says. "Like a movie star--I swear."