After almost 44 years, Illusions Hair Design ‘fading away into the sunset’

(WSB photo: Sue Lindblom at left with Nancy, Heather, Monica, Anna, Rita)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

“We’ve had a lot of fun – I believe it’s important to have a lot of fun, and laugh.”

That philosophy has propelled Sue Lindblom through almost 44 years of owning and operating the trailblazing West Seattle salon Illusions Hair Design (5619 California SW; longtime WSB sponsor). So much fun, she couldn’t bear to retire until now. Illusions has just announced it’s closing permanently at the end of May. (Read her full emailed announcement here.)

“I thought I’d retire at 65, or 67, or 68 … here I am, almost 74. But those numbers are just numbers.” This isn’t just her decision, her retirement. The entire Illusions team, with a collective century and a half at the salon, decided to call it a day, all planning to leave the hairstyling business. “It was just time – seemed like the right time for all of us.”

Lindblom has operated Illusions differently from most other salons. No tipping, for one. But that’s just part of it.

She was 30 when she and then-business partner Linda Rhoton opened Illusions Hair Design on June 1, 1978, ten years after she started in the business. She became sole owner when Rhoton had to retire early. “I didn’t think I’d be doing it this long.” A previous employer’s innovations inspired her. “I was managing that salon and started to think I could run one.” But it took a decade or so before she started “different ways of doing things.”

She wanted to offer benefits – she was a single mom, and acutely aware of the need for insurance, vacation, holidays. Instead of stylists renting chairs and operating as sole proprietors under a collective roof, everybody at Illusions worked as a team. No fighting over clients – they wanted them to be comfortable seeing anyone on the team. The cohesion carried over to their paychecks. “If we made our goals in a four-week period, everybody got a bonus.” Financial information was shared too: “They knew exactly what we were spending on everything – how much we were spending on colors, how much we were giving to charity … a consulting firm helped us get started on that. We slowly started adopting all these different things.”

And there was the big change. “When we quit tipping [more than 30 years ago], the stylists were more excited than the customers. The prevailing attitude was, “I do the best I can on everybody all the time.” The atmosphere was more relaxed than competitive. And, again, fun. “If your employees are happy, they’re going to make the customers happy.” That made Lindblom happy: “It always made me feel good that I was taking care of my team. I care about all of them.” She shared that advice in presentations to student stylists: “I’d tell people I go to salons and sit there for a while and get a feel for the atmosphere. You spend most of your waking hours at work, it has to be a place you feel good about.” Education was a staff activity too – not just new hair techniques, but also communication techniques.

That’s kept some customers coming back year after year after year – even some from her pre-Illusions salon, Beauty and the Beast. They also have second- and third-generation clients: “They’ve come since they were little kids – now we do them or their kids.”

Something else that’s carried through the decades, along with operating practices and clients: Community giving. For many years, Illusions hosted “Have a Heart Day,” where stylists donated their time so that all proceeds from reduced-price haircuts could benefit nonprofits.

(Photo from 2010 Have a Heart Day)

An early beneficiary was the West Seattle Helpline (now part of the WS Food Bank). “It was so much fun that we asked about school supplies for kids,” and that’s how Pencil Me In For Kids was born: Helpline connected them to family-support workers who helped them find out what kids most needed, not just “a backpack full of stuff.” Lindblom joined the Rotary Club of West Seattle after the turn of the millennium, and Pencil Me In For Kids is now under the Rotary’s umbrella. “We work with public elementaries,” as well as in partnership with Staples at Westwood Village, for price breaks and donated items. “It’s been very rewarding … I feel very good about that.”

Lindblom also feels good about being able to hang on through the pandemic. It was her birthday, March 16th, 2020, when they had to close, by government order, for a few months. “I had just taken out a home-improvement loan, so I was able to cover payroll … PPP loans helped us too.” She wants to be clear that the pandemic is not the reason they’re closing – everyone is just ready to move on to something else. “If we were at a point where we had younger stylists, there might be someone who would take it on.” Instead, “Illusions is fading away into the sunset.” Many memories linger – holiday buffets for clients, Christmas dinners for the staff, even a trip to the ocean. And everyone going to accept the Mayor’s Small Business Award that Illusions won in 1997. Lindblom also was honored with the West Seattle Grand Parade‘s coveted Orville Rummel Trophy for Outstanding Service to the Community. Illusions made repeat appearances in the parade – you might remember the distinctive VW Bug:

(WSB photo from 2007 West Seattle Grand Parade)
Also notable: Illusions “has been a family thing.” Her daughter Heather has worked at the salon for more than half her life. Other relatives have worked there. Her brother remodeled the salon – which brings up something else unusual Lindblom did: She bought the building long ago to ensure the salon would be in control of its own destiny and not subject to a landlord’s change in plans. She recently sold it; if the new owners choose to rent the space to a salon, “it will NOT be Illusions.” (In the meantime, anyone interested in leasing the space can leave a message for her at Illusions, 206-938-3675.)

Now some logistics: May 26th will be the last day for Illusions. As it is winding down, the salon is no longer accepting new clients. But, as noted in the announcement:

-Current clients who have received services within the past 3 years can schedule appointments through April, and can request appointments for the month of May AFTER MARCH 14TH.

So what are Lindblom’s plans once Illusions is closed? Maybe some traveling, though there’s plenty to keep her busy at home – Lindblom laughs that she has “a little dog who takes up a lot of time.” She’s also still busy with the Rotary. “So many things to be passionate about in West Seattle.”

And that’s how she’s been about her business, employees, and customers – for 44 years.

21 Replies to "After almost 44 years, Illusions Hair Design 'fading away into the sunset'"

  • Roger Gould February 25, 2022 (9:49 am)

    Good Luck to everyone.

  • Anw February 25, 2022 (10:01 am)

    I will miss you, Illusions! I haven’t had my hair cut by anyone else in many years and I’ve sent lots of people your way. I’ll miss the great cuts, conversations, and community that you all provided. Best wishes to all of you! –Anjie

  • Blbl February 25, 2022 (10:19 am)

    Congratulations on a remarkable career and well-earned retirement. Best of luck to all!

  • Friend O'Dinghus February 25, 2022 (10:51 am)

    Regretfully I have never visited Illusions, but after reading this article I really wished I had. Thank you Ms. Lindblom for your vision and your sensitivity to other’s needs. Folks like you are what makes all the difference in a community. West Seattle owes you all a great deal of gratitude. I hope all of you ladies have a fantastic Summer doing all the things you enjoy most.

  • KRISTI MANDT February 25, 2022 (11:36 am)

    Sue is a remarkable person, very kind, nice and consistently giving to others, she has done so much for the West Seattle community, I know her through the West Seattle Chamber.  She would always figure out a need and step up to fill it. I wish her and her staff the best of everything going forward.

  • Al Semple February 25, 2022 (11:45 am)

    What a beautiful story

  • Lola February 25, 2022 (1:17 pm)

    I remember going to them back in the day , they could do a mean Feather to my hair loved it.  Much Happiness to Sue in retirement.  Good luck to everyone at the salon. 

  • ACG February 25, 2022 (1:47 pm)

    What a lovely story. Thank you for sharing. Best wishes to everyone at Illusions as they begin their next adventures. 

  • jissy February 25, 2022 (4:47 pm)

    This is SO cool…. to all go out together on your own terms is Lovely.  Bittersweet but lovely.  

  • Barb Z February 25, 2022 (5:23 pm)

    I started going to Illusions on the recommendation of a friend way before I moved from Eastlake to West Seattle 12 years ago! Everyone there was a class act, and I always received wonderful service, along with fun conversations.  It will be hard to replace them. I am happy those special ladies are all finding new paths for the future, but will miss them!  Thank you for being such generous supporters to the West Seattle community, and happy days ahead!

  • Kris February 25, 2022 (7:23 pm)

    CONGRATULATIONS to all of you. I will definitely miss the friendly professional atmosphere of the salon. I have been going to Illusions for at least 30 years. Thanks to all of the staff!

  • Rick February 25, 2022 (8:16 pm)

    You had a great run.  And did great things. 

  • CorkyIllusions February 25, 2022 (9:18 pm)

    What a great article and from the sound of it, a great hair salon! I walk past Illusions often on my nightowl walks at 3 in the morning so it was nice to read about its backstory and learn about all the good that flowed through its doors. Good luck to all the ladies!

  • Tracey February 26, 2022 (6:48 am)

    I went to Illusions just a few times and now wish I had kept it up.  I don’t remember why I stopped.  It wasn’t service related.  I so appreciated the way the business was run.  The staff were treated properly and that transferred to us customers.  I’ve never been a big fan of tipping especially since it has become expected no matter the level of service provided.  (20% has become the “met expectations” level – tell that to my boss when she is handing out raises).  I always had a nice cut and was treated kindly despite the lack of tip jar.  I  appreciate that.  Good luck Illusions.  Sorry to see you go.  

  • Client February 26, 2022 (10:03 am)

    As a long time client of 44 years I will definitely miss them but good for all of you . Enjoy! I hope to join you in retirement as well soon!JF

  • Shannon Flora February 26, 2022 (10:11 am)

    Best wishes Sue and happy retirement to everyone at Illusions. You have done so much for the community and we are all better for it. Remembering the days of working together for ArtsWest. Cheers!

  • Lydia H February 27, 2022 (12:34 pm)

    I’m crushed Illusions is closing! I’ve been a customer since 2007 & have always had great service, but it is the people that work there that made it special!! Hoping the best for all on their new paths! Stay well All!!😍

  • Katy Lloyd February 28, 2022 (10:52 am)

    Awww, like so many others, I have such mixed feelings. I feel so lucky to have been an Illusions client for the past 20 years or so. I didn’t think it was possible, but having read your history I love you even more! I wish you all the very, very best. Enjoy the next chapter!!!

  • Kjersti March 1, 2022 (1:29 pm)

    Congratulations, Sue! Thank you for all you have done and continue to do for our community. I hope you have a wonderful retirement!

  • Sue Lindblom March 5, 2022 (4:26 pm)

    I get teary eyed every time I read comments by all those who wished us well.  It is definitely a bitter sweet time of our lives. Thanks for all of the wonderful comments and well-wishers. And, thank you West Seattle Blog for always working so hard to keep our community informed of happenings on our wonderful  peninsula.  I guess I won’t know what happens for me in the next chapter until I turn the page…..

  • Roxane March 9, 2022 (12:54 pm)

    Congratulations! Super excited for everyone and yet, selfishly super sad…always an enjoyable time spent with lovely, lovely people. Thank you to all of you for amazing service to your clients and community. 

Sorry, comment time is over.