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By Mike Hazlip–
When Becky and Charles Hamilton built Citrus Heights Beauty College in 1969, afros, bouffants and pixy cuts were the popular styles of the day while “Sugar, Sugar” by The Archies was number one on Billboard’s Hot 100.
Styles have changed over the last five decades, as has an industry impacted by state laws and COVID-related shutdowns, but Becky Hamilton says her commitment to the students remains the same.
“The nicest thing about this is that you meet a lot of people,” Hamilton said. “The best part is you’re helping the students, you meet a lot of clients, and those clients make a difference in the students’ career, they really, really do.”
The students at Citrus Heights Beauty College come from a variety of backgrounds, Hamilton says, and she tries to instill them with the same work ethic she learned from her father.
“I think that’s our job,” she said. “It’s just not teaching how to cut the hair, but how to manage life and make them feel important.”
Originally from Arkansas, Hamilton says she grew up in a family of 15 children. After moving to Chico, she eventually settled in Citrus Heights and graduated from San Juan High School, and later got married.
“He wanted to do the schools,” Hamilton said. “That was his dream. He worked in several schools and then decided he wanted to build one here.”
Working as a team with her husband took some adjustments, Hamilton said, but they managed to build a successful business and marriage together until Charles’ death in December, 2021.
“We were married and we were partners in the business and that sometimes is hard, it really is,” she said. “You learn to have the business part of you and learn to have a personal life and that’s what we did, we each knew what our strength was.”
That business now averages 80 to 100 students among six managers, Hamilton said. Prospective students entering the program meet with staff members to evaluate their financial needs and eligibility for financial aid.
There is no specific graduation date with each student working to accumulate enough hours to take a written and practical test before they can move on to working with customers. Student schedules are flexible, and Hamilton says classes start later to accommodate students who have children of their own.
Citrus Heights Beauty College is open to the public Monday through Saturday and students are closely supervised by a staff member while they work with customers.
The beauty college is more than a school for Hamilton. She sees her role as a mentor to help younger generations who are just starting out in life.
“I try to tell them that You can’t do anything about your past, but you can do something about your future,” Hamilton said. “You can educate yourself, you can work, you can make these decisions for yourself. You have to have education first, but then what do you do with that? How do you support yourself? And a lot of times how you support a child?”
In business for more than 40 years, the college is continues to be a family operation with Hamilton’s daughter a part of the company today, she says.
“It’s always been family,” she said. “It’s family owned and a lot of the family worked in here from the very beginning and it’s still owned by family. So I think that makes such a big difference, and we have wonderful employees that have been with us a long time.”
Staying current in an industry that is constantly changing has not always been easy, Hamilton says. Many of the companies that produce the hair products she sells have been sold or changed names over the years. State laws have also limited the number of hours for employees.
Continuing education is what keeps Citrus Heights Beauty College on the cutting edge of hair styles, according to Hamilton. Since its beginning, the college has expanded to include skin care and pedicures. She says attending classes and memberships in professional organizations has been vital to staying on top of industry trends.
Staying on top of the cosmetology industry isn’t the only continuing education she has. Soon after opening the college, Hamilton and her husband went back to school to get certifications to teach high school students. She has also managed to obtain a degree in business and another degree in nursing during the years she has operated the college. Both degrees have helped her better serve her students and the clients of the college, she says.
One of the most difficult challenges Hamilton has had to meet was the pandemic shutdowns of 2020 and 2021. Keeping the business going and paying employees amid the mandatory closure of an industry already heavily regulated to maintain cleanliness standards tested their financial ability, she says.
Despite the challenges, she says the college managed to continue to pay their employees.
“We continued to pay all of our employees the full salary that they had, thinking if they’ve worked for us, they’ve stood by us, we should stand by them, we’ll make it.”
Having built their own building gave Hamilton some added flexibility to make it through the pandemic shutdowns, she says.
Citrus Heights Beauty College emerged from the pandemic, going on to win Best of Citrus Heights in 2021, something Hamilton says was a meaningful reward.
“Last year we were voted best of Citrus Heights in the beauty category which I felt was a nice compliment from our clients,” she said. “And I thought that was great because I never even thought about it until I saw that.”
Through it all, the most rewarding thing about the business comes back to seeing her students succeed, Hamilton says.
“To see the growth and see the students who we have helped over the years, to think that the time they were with you, that you made a little bit of difference in their life. You educate mom will educate kids, I’m a firm believer in that.”
With a home on 20 acres in Lincoln to maintain, Hamilton has cut back her hours at the college, but has no plans to retire just yet.
“I think everyone says, Why have you stayed this long? Because I enjoy the communication with the students and helping,” she said. “I never got tired of it. Everyone said, Are you going to retire? Not yet. Not yet. So long as my health is good, I’m going to continue to work.”
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