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Selling self-confidence: Sue's II boutique in Benton helps those struggling with hair loss

BENTON — Kelly Bain is in the business of self-confidence.

With a stock of 250 wigs showcased in her recently remodeled Sue’s II boutique on Benton’s square, Bain helps women regain a bit of themselves.

Bain said some women have medical conditions that makes them go bald, while others just want the freedom of knowing every day will be a good hair day. Either way, she said it’s a joy helping them fill a need in their life.

Even over the phone, Bain said she can tell when a customer is potentially battling something — losing hair is sometimes an outward symbol of a greater fight and she said she tells these customers who are resistant to even the idea they may need a wig to simply come in. She tells them they won’t be the same after.

“You come in here and you are going to be a different person when you leave,” Bain said.

This is the bit she loves the most. “I love making people feel better about themselves, giving them their self-confidence back,” she said.

Bain’s process is to make people feel special — her boutique feels like a high-end beauty salon, equipped with plush chairs in front of big mirrors. Lining the walls are wigs with every style, length and color a customer could want. She said she keeps such a large number in stock so customers won’t have to wait on a special order — they can leave with a new hairpiece that day.

Isaac Smith / ISAAC SMITH The Southern 

Wigs line the walls at Sue's II in Benton.

Bain said while she gets a lot out of helping people who need a wig for medical reasons, this is not the majority of her customers.

“We sell a lot to people going through chemo, alopecia, hair loss," she said, "but a lot of our business is people who just want their life easier and want good hair every day."

Mary McNail is just such a person. She came to Bain to find a wig to wear on vacation. She came in a bit cautious about trying wigs on. She said she just wanted one for a cruise she and her husband, Don, were taking this winter. In the past she said she wasn’t able to properly fix her hair in their room on the boat — aside from that, she said anymore it’s painful to lift her arms above her shoulders to do her hair. So having a wig would fix both of those problems.

Bain walked McNail through a number of options, finding the perfect match to her hair color and the style she currently wears. With each suggestion, McNail’s apprehension faded, and by the end she was primping in the mirror, looking to her husband for his opinion.

She even started thinking about a a new style to take home. “I’ve always wanted long hair,” she said to her husband, eyeing the shoulder-length pieces on a high shelf.

But, she said that might have to wait.

In a way, Bain was able to give McNail a bit of freedom. Apart from her struggles lifting her arms to do her hair every day, McNail said she gets her hair done twice a week and is sleeping on a rolled up towel to keep it looking nice. If she likes it enough, McNail said she might start wearing her wig full time, eliminating the need for all the fuss.

Sue’s has been in Benton for 47 years. Bain’s mother, Sue Dirks, along with Bain’s father, started the business as a children’s boutique and has since retired. Bain came on board after college more than 30 years ago and it was 25 years ago that they began dealing in wigs. Bain said their stock was about as big as it is now, but the display was tucked in the back. However, she said it’s been eating at her to focus more on wigs, particularly in the last 10 years.

This summer, she decided to either retire or change her business model. With her mom’s blessing, she went ahead with plans to remodel and do away with the children's clothes and bring the wigs to the forefront.

“I think I have compassion for people going through the rough times,” Bain said of her interest in making wigs a primary focus of her family’s store.

Some of this compassion was learned with direct experience — in 2009 her mother was diagnosed with cancer and found herself needing a wig.

“I had my first treatment. Two weeks later I started to fix my hair to go to church and I ran my fingers through it and got this much hair,” Dirks said, miming a clump of hair the size of a baseball.

She called her daughter right away.

“She said, ‘Mom, come over right after church and we will buzz you,'” Dirks remembered.

“I thought, ‘You know, if that’s all I have to do to get well, I can handle it,’” she said.

Dirks explained she had been wearing a wig before, but mostly out of convenience. She said it was traumatic at first to find herself actually needing to wear a wig. But, she said she left Bain’s house “as bald as a billiard ball,” knowing she had options.

This is the confidence Bain is able to give her customers.

Though able to retire, Bain said she has no plans to do so any time soon. The recent change in her business, making her one of the largest wig shops in the region, is keeping her busy. Indeed, she gets called in on her days off to help work a busy sales counter.

She has rejuvenated her family’s business and said she has almost an obligation to take it well into the future.

“I’m going past 50 (years), well past 50,” Bain said.

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Legendary Carbondale bagel business for sale for $3,500 on Craigslist

CARBONDALE — A little piece of Carbondale history has gone up for sale on Craigslist.

For 34 years, Winston “the Bagel Man” Mezo served up hot bagels to the late-night bar crowd, most recently in the parking lot of Pinch Penny Liquors on Grand Avenue.

Now his iconic bagel cart is listed on the classifieds website for $3,500. That price includes the cart itself and “all cart equipment, grill, utensils, coolers and a 1998 Econoline Ford ¾ ton Van,” according to the ad.

Mezo’s bagels, topped with everything from cucumbers to bacon bits to apples, were beloved by his mostly college-age regulars.

He said that about a dozen people have expressed interest in the equipment but that it’s still currently available. He’d prefer to sell the cart to someone who plans to operate it in Carbondale, although that’s not a requirement.

“I’d really like to for a few reasons — I can help them out if they’re close. I said I’d go up there every once in a while, and I can give them a lot of shortcuts and help them out and just be around if they need something or want to know something about it,” Mezo said.

He said he could demonstrate how to quickly set up, load and unload the cart, and where and how to get supplies.

“It looks like a three-ring circus if you don’t know,” he said. “ … There’s a lot of things I could show them that took me many moons to learn how to perfect.”

Much of Mezo’s appeal stemmed from his good-natured banter with customers. His most recognizable schtick was a series of jokes about a made-up, slow-witted nephew. “My younger nephew is the brains behind the operation — only 27 and already a sophomore at the high school,” he’d say. “He thought the Pony Express was a racetrack and the Supreme Court was where the NBA played their championship games.”

Developing a rapport with customers is important, he said.

“With these students, (school is) a big concern of theirs and they want to talk about it. Be a good listener if they do. Be friendly. The main thing is to be friendly and to keep a good attitude,” Mezo said.

Mezo, who left the business in April at the age of 75, said retirement has been a “mixed bag.” He has more time to spend at SIU’s Recreation Center and to play pool, but he still sometimes misses those late nights serving grilled bagels to hungry bar-goers and joking around with his regulars.

“I don’t miss that 4 o’clock in the morning, loading it up, rain, snow, sleet or hail and then going to Walmart all dirty and trying to pound down coffee to keep going. But I do miss the action up there. And those kids, I really miss those kids,” he said.


Winston Mezo puts the finishing touches on his famous bagels on his last night in businesses on April 27. Mezo is selling the bagel cart on Craigslist. 

Rauner administration outlines more than $200M in cuts from Illinois budget

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration has outlined more than $200 million in cuts it wants to make to Illinois' new budget, including to human services, agriculture programs and transportation.

The cuts were presented in materials Rauner's budget office gave to legislative caucuses.

Democratic Rep. Greg Harris of Chicago said the cuts include $89 million to human services programs, including autism services, after-school programming, and immigrant and refugee services.

Harris questioned the governor's priorities. Harris noted that many of the programs with cuts are those that the governor has repeatedly targeted over the years.

"It's the usual list of things he has tried to zero out each time he gets the chance," Harris said. "While I am glad he did not totally eliminate them this time, it's the same groups and same programs that are critical investments for the state."

Rauner spokeswoman Patty Schuh said the governor was obligated to make the cuts.

"The governor received a budget $1.7 billion out of balance and has to take action where possible to begin reducing that structural imbalance," she said.

Other cuts include $85 million to the Illinois Department of Transportation, $41 million to the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and $21 million to the Department of Agriculture.

Rauner's administration said more cuts will need to be made, because the budget is still $1.5 billion out of balance.