To a child, the skid steer sitting in front of Kiddo’s Closet and Clips, the children’s hairdresser and toy store in Fairview Heights, might look like a real-life Tonka Truck, complete with a set of real-life builders and accessories.
A sump pump was just installed. Concrete blocks are sitting outside. And turned up dirt is everywhere. But not every child is amused, said Jessica Butcher, who owns the store, which is undergoing an expansion.
Recently, a little girl came in for her first appointment and told Butcher she really likes the inside, brimming with toys and murals.
“The outside, not so much,” the girl said, according to Butcher.
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Kiddo’s Closet and Clips, just across the road from Chesterfield Park on Old Collinsville Road, is a colorful and inviting old renovated home. Designed with children in mind, there are hand-painted pictures of animals everywhere, from a giraffe stretching its neck over the main archway to a surprised-looking penguin and flamingo in the corners.
The shop specializes in first-time haircuts, and on Thursday afternoon, it was Tessa Kraus’s turn.
Tessa, just a month shy of her third birthday, kicked off her boots and handed her pink coat to mom. Butcher scooped her up and took her to the salon.
Tiffany Kraus, Tessa’s mother, was surprised everything was going so smoothly. She had been here with her brothers and sat in the neighboring car-chair when they had appointments, but she’d never wanted her own haircut before. Kraus was slightly nervous the calm wouldn’t hold, but so far it was going OK.
“Jessica will do a great job,” Kraus said. “She always does.”
Butcher’s business has gone through the ups and downs of many small business-owners during the past nine years, including opening and closing a couple of offshoots from her flagship location in Fairview Heights. Recently, however, she decided to cut back on the retail side of her business and focus on the service side at her original location.
After starting the process 10 months ago, in December, Butcher broke ground on a 1,750 square-foot addition that eventually will triple her current 900 square-foot outlet.
About 1,000 feet of the new addition will be a mixed-use space for hobbies and classes like tumbling for children 6 and younger. There will also be tea parties.
Back in the chair, Tessa was cooperating, occupied with a small puzzle as she sat in the pink “Dream Dazzler” car next to the “Mud Warrior.”
Tessa is Kraus’s fourth and youngest child to have their hair cut at Kiddo’s. Kraus saw the location after she drove by it shortly after it opened.
She brought her first child there, who is now 13. He graduated from the car-like chairs to a normal seat, and instead of watching movies, he now plays video games.
Her second son, now 11, started going to Kiddo’s Closet and Clips because he disliked going to a normal salon. He has Down syndrome, and at a typical salon, he would scream and yell, Kraus said. Sometimes they would leave in the middle of an appointment. Kiddo’s was more understanding, Kraus said, and going there was more enjoyable for her son.
Her third son had his first haircut at Kiddo’s, too. He’s 6 now, and for some reason they always end up leaving with a toy, Kraus said.
Before Butcher opened Kiddo’s, she’d worked as an event-planner and dabbled in clothing consignment as a hobby. After moving to the metro-east and starting a family, however, one of her children came down with an illness, turning her hobby into a necessary distraction.
Josh is a 16-year-old sophomore at Belleville East now, but at the age of 5 he was diagnosed with minimal change disease, which impaired his kidneys, and even a small cold would mushroom into something much larger.
“It was a guessing game for 10 years,” Butcher said on how to fight the illness. Now in remission, Joshua grew up along with the store.
Butcher had wanted to open a place like Kiddo’s for years, she said, and, motivated in part by her son’s illness, she “woke up one day with the idea” to make it a reality.
After searching for a place to work in, she finally came across a small house across the street from Centerfield Park.
“Because I found the building, that decided the road I would take,” she said.
At $94,000, it was an affordable house, but Butcher bought it right before the housing bubble burst in 2008, and then she sunk about another $30,000 into the building for renovations, which included new phone lines, making the bathroom compliant with the Americans with Disability Act, and even changing the direction of the driveway.
Butcher took classes on how to cut hair, and she received her barber’s license in 2010. She estimated that Kiddo’s has seen 20,000 haircuts in nine years.
Butcher has diversified Kiddo’s Closet and Clips by expanding the retail side of her business to the St. Louis Galleria and St. Clair Square with stores called, simply, Kiddo’s. After two years at the Galleria, however, she was finally forced to close her shop there because of a 30-percent decline in sales from last year, she said.
Overhead and online retail are partly to blame, and they’ve encouraged Butcher to double-down on the service side of her Fairview Heights store.
“You can’t buy services online,” she said.
Although Kiddo’s focuses on children, the salon isn’t for everyone.
“It’s been difficult to me to find those (hairdressers),” Butcher said. She is looking for stay-at-home parents to work with her when the expansion opens.
When it does, Tessa will probably be there. After her haircut ended, she picked out a pink bow and posed for pictures. Then Butcher printed one and put it in a frame with a snippet of hair.
The frame now sits on Tessa’s dresser in her room — a family keepsake.
- Owner: Kiddo’s Closet and Clips, 5621 Old Collinsville Road in Fairview Heights
- Phone: 618-622-8500
- On the web: www.kiddosclosetandclips.com
- Outlook: She plans to focus on the service side of her business. “You can’t buy services online,” she said.