Oh, that Patti Linn.
If it’s not one thing, it’s another.
Ms. Linn is most celebrated around here for 25 years, for making Island residents look better, working from her home hair and beauty salon at 566 State Road in West Tisbury.
But that’s only one aspect in the life of the redheaded Baltimore native who arrived here for a summer job 36 years ago and embarked on a dizzying life of multiple careers and a passion for community service.
She is a mom. Her son Simon, 23, is a graduate of James Madison University with a degree in sports management. He works outside of New York City with a National Hockey League sports agency.
Ms. Linn spent three years at college herself, studying nursing and education at Towson University in Maryland before settling here and beginning her personal care career in the early 1980s under Rick Harrington who operated a hair salon in Edgartown.
His mentoring led to her enrollment at Bojack’s beauty school in Boston where she received licensing both as a skincare specialist and as a beautician, working with Mr. Harrington.
“When Rick decided to give up the business, I wanted to take it over but it was licensed as a home business so I couldn’t operate it out of Rick’s house. We (former husband Ken Goldberg) had just built this house so in 1986, we converted a spare bedroom into this space and opened up for business,” she recalled.
Along the way she’s also become an owner-breeder of yellow labs, a caterer, school bus driver, tour bus guide, restaurant and retail store manager, limo driver, and waitress. For two years she trained as a sound engineer in a recording studio in California. Now she is considering another career as a chocolatier to the Vineyard.
“I taught myself how to make chocolates and I’ve been making them for more than 20 years, basically for friends and for events such as the Possible Dreams auction. And I make them for sale at the December holiday craft fair in Edgartown. Last year, because of surgery, I didn’t do them and people kept asking for them. So I’ve been thinking about it as a sideline. Even picked a name, Linnsations — exquisite chocolates,” she said early last Saturday morning in her West Tisbury salon.
Ms. Linn leads a dizzying, multi-tasked life, but as she recounts her journey, an organic theme emerges. Threads emerge that link seemingly disparate careers, passions, and pursuits on an orderly, progressive and pragmatic way. To make ends meet, “you do what you have to do,” she declared. For example, she obtained a commercial driver’s license so she could drive a school bus when Simon began school.
But the hair and beauty business that she conducts in a small bright room is her core. In all, she has probably tended to more than 60,000 heads, and psyches, over the past 25 years. But wherever the next path takes her, “I’m not ready to give this up. I enjoy this work,” she said, gesturing around her salon. She has also cut prisoners’ hair at the county lockup in Edgartown — “so they’d look good at their court appearances,” she said.
Ms. Linn smiles as she describes herself as a middle child, a family position noted for producing caregivers. Whether the Psych 101 label is true or not, Ms. Linn takes care of her community, working with Hospice, Visiting Nurses Association, and the high school touchdown and hockey clubs. She also takes care of her customers. “I accommodate customers and they accommodate me,” she said. “I’ll do emergency cuts if they’re going off-Island. I’ve had some clients for 30 years,”
Customers help her as well. Ms. Linn has been a member of the Island Community Chorus for eight years, thanks to a customer. “I was singing one day and a customer said, ‘Hey you have a good voice. You should try the chorus.’ So I’ve been doing that for a while and it’s wonderful.
“I haven’t raised prices in three years. Now, I have wealthy clients as well as people like me. I’ve based my business on the year-round population and, given the economy, this didn’t seem like the right time to do it. And I adjust the price if there isn’t a lot to do,” she adds, grinning at her bald interviewer.
Her base haircut prices range from $30 for men and $50 for women, just double her prices 25 years ago.
She takes care of customers in other ways as well. Personal services businesses such as hers tend to promote conversation and sharing. Ms. Linn is an open, attentive, and empathetic person, and she has built strong and lasting relationships around the single customer chair in her salon.
“It’s a little like therapy. I could write a book, but I wouldn’t because what we tell each other about our lives, that’s in confidence. I’m not sharing your information with anyone. People feel safe with me. I like to talk, but I’m a good listener too. We’ve shared our stories with each other, joys and losses. We’ve shared a lot together. Lots of nice stories and some sad ones.
“As we’ve gotten older, the details become a little different, but the stories don’t change. What has changed is that younger people are more open. We were more open than the generation before us and the younger generation is even more open than we are. Today we talk about issues that were never discussed by older generations,” she said.
Wisdom comes with time and experience, but “when you do a lot of things, I think you never really grow up. And that’s good,” she said.
Barbara Murphy of Chilmark, a long-time Island friend and customer of Ms. Linn’s, contributed to this story.
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