by Michael R. Allen
The old brick building, already refaced with glazed brick after street widening in the 1920s, has a mess of stucco across the front. The storefront is covered by chain link gates. The exquisitely-lettered enamel sign board has long lost its neon tubing. This block has lost most of its buildings and businesses, and blocks east and west of here are equally forlorn. Yet the Heller Beauty Supply Company has remained in operation since 1908 at the same location, 2709 Martin Luther King Drive (once Easton Avenue) in JeffVanderLou (once Yeatman).
The sign’s exaggerated moderne letters read: HELLER CO.; Sofay Cosmetics – Hair Goods; BEAUTY SUPPLIES. (That reading leaves out the squiggles.) Sofay Cosmetics was a line of cosmetics and colognes distributed exclusively by the family-run Heller Distributing Company. The Hellers distributed their own products here and elsewhere. The store has always sold a wide line of cosmetics and, most famously, wigs. According to family members, Ike and Tina Turner as well as Chuck Berry were customers of the shop over the years. Shriner clowns and Muny makeup artists also frequented the business.
Long-time owner and manager David Heller passed away in 1999, but his children still operate the business. This is still “the place” for wigs on the near north side, with a clientele from across the region.