In mid-July, a new wig boutique opened in Ahwatukee, one that is more than the sum of its locks – though they’re plentiful as well.
Long-time Ahwatukee residents Hanna Lulgjuraj Murray and Loretta LaBarbera, owner of Loretta’s Ahwatukee Jewelers, opened their doors upon realizing the wig business could not only be profitable, but helpful to area cancer patients.
At the same time, they also are helping domestic violence victims through Murray’s nonprofit, Angel of Mercy, Shelter of Hope.
Though the shelter has yet to become a brick-and-mortar reality, the start of Lulgjuraj Angel of Mercy, Second Hand, Second Chance Thrift Store, for which she holds an LLC, has taken its first step to reality as a back-of-the-boutique mini-store.
The idea for Bella Wigs Boutique grew out of experiences LaBarbera had when she went looking for wigs with her mother, a five-year cancer survivor, and her sister-in-law, who is currently battling the disease.
“Loretta called me and said ‘a wig store, that’s where the business is,” Lulgjuraj Murray recalled. “She said it was awesome to see so many women come in to the store for so many reasons. She told me she wanted me to come in as her business partner, I’ve been an investor in her jewelry business for almost 10 of the 14 years I’ve known her.”
Upon hearing LaBarbera’s proposal, Lulgjuraj Murray said, “I thought, ‘I need to turn this around and make it into something more.’ I wanted to somehow tie it into my nonprofit because I’ve wanted to open a secondhand shop to help finance the Angel of Mercy Shelter.”
She suggested dedicating a portion of the wig boutique’s floor plan to help finance her nonprofit, and LaBarbera was enthusiastic.
Within two weeks of their conversation, a storefront across Warner Road from Loretta’s Ahwatukee Jewelers became available. Three weeks later, Bella’s Wig Boutique opened for business.
“We rushed orders for wigs, for jewelry, for everything; we worked really hard and in three weeks, we were ready to rock,” said Lulgjuraj Murray.
The shop interior is femininely-pink with a sparkling chandelier and shelved displays of synthetic wigs that range from $30 to a tad over $100; natural hair wigs start at $300.
“We have wigs with long hair, short hair, we have all different colors – blond, black, red, green,” she said.
“Yes, a man came in last week and said he was going to a party and he was a ginger and tried on several colors but chose the first one I picked for him – a green one. Nine out of 10 times, the very first wig I pick for a customer is the one they end up purchasing,” she said “I have a knack for it. I see their facial features, jaw line, color of their skin, and I just match them up.”
As Halloween party invitations hit mail boxes and computer screens, the selection of regularly-offered wigs becomes much more colorful and varied, said Lulgjuraj Murray.
“We’re getting our Halloween wigs in – we’ve got Elvira, witch hair, princess, Cinderella, even clown wigs,” she said.
Although a private fitting room is provided for cancer survivors or those undergoing chemotherapy, there’s also a lightness of attitude toward anyone seeking a wig for fun, or even to experiment with various styles on as their first experiment with wig wearing.
“I think the best thing a customer can experience is a friendly greeting when they walk in the door. And everyone who walks in, not knowing their situation, I ask ‘Is this just for fun? Do you wear wigs?’ and I know in an instant what the situation is,” she said. “They’ll tell me its curiosity, or tell me, ‘I had to shave my head’ or ‘my hair’s growing back.’ Then I know.”
In any case, Lugjuraj Murray helps them personally to put on the cap and the wig, then adjusting it.
“We have a special room with curtains especially for cancer patients who might not feel comfortable uncovering their head in public,” said Lugjuraj Murray, a 19-year Ahwatukee resident.
LaBarbera – who has operated her jewelry store in several Ahwatukee locations for 18 of her 28 years in business – said she knows firsthand how cancer patients or those recovering can feel about their hair loss and what a wig or wigs can do for their self-image.
“They feel less self-conscious when they’re wearing a wig; it makes them feel better and that’s what we want,” she said.
Lulgjuraj said she can identify with the women who walk in her door needing help.
“I’m a domestic violence survivor so I understand pain, not at that level, but I can empathize. I feel I provide a really great service, and when they leave, its hugging time.”
An advocate and speaker for domestic violence victims, Lulgjuraj Murray authored the book, “Lived to Tell About It,” an account of her being shot in the chest and left for dead by her then-husband.
She recounts her struggles to recover from the trauma that had been preceded by years of spousal abuse, and then regaining control of her life as she raised her two daughters.
This experience is the impetus for her dream to build an Angel of Mercy Shelter for abused women, children and even their pets. She said most domestic violence shelters do not allow household pets to accompany the family, which can cause further heartbreak and trauma.
In the rear of the 700-square foot Bella Wig Boutique is the start of her anticipated nonprofit’s Angel of Mercy; Second Hand, Second Chance thrift store, where hundreds of women’s clothing items and shoes are available for purchase. She continues to solicit donations, including monetary gifts.
“Everything is donated, and everything we sell is put back into Angel of Mercy Shelter of Hope. Eventually, I want to open a secondhand store.”
For Lugjuraj Murray and LaBarbera, the Bella Wig Boutique is more than a retail operation, but a way of giving back of their talents, life experiences and empathy for the hurting.
“We want people to know we’re here to help people of all ages – cancer patients so they can feel beautiful again or the woman who is just tired of working on her hair and wants a wig,” she said. “We want to be a company who really gives back to the community. It’s not like, ‘Hey! We’re opening up a store and it’s no big deal.’ We want to be more.”
The Bella Wigs Boutique is more than wigs and hair extensions. It also sells jewelry for men and women, watches, watch batteries, men’s wallets, and they offer jewelry repair.
They are currently working with insurance companies to assist cancer patients paying for their wigs, as allowed by each individual carrier.
Bella Wigs Boutique is located at 4902 E. Warner Road, suite 11. 480-390-9300.