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Monique Ursich, owner of Birdcage Beauty Parlour in Downtown San Pedro. (photo: John Mattera Photography)

If everything had gone according to plan, Birdcage Beauty Parlour might not be here today. 

“My husband is very much a go-getter, and he bought me a birdcage chandelier,” says Monique Ursich, owner and lead stylist of the salon. She’d gone back and forth for years on opening her own business, preferring to take her time before making major decisions. “It was five years earlier than I planned, but my husband pushed me,” she says, gesturing to the golden birdcage now hanging at center stage of her shop. The rest was history. “We found a space, and we built the salon in 30 days.”

When she says built, she means it. From floor to ceiling, the space was completely remodeled by Monique and her family in the span of one month during the spring of 2018. “My daughter laid the floors — I think she was 10 [years old] at the time,” Monique recalls. And the furniture? “We found it all in a week. We went all over the city, even as far as Laguna Niguel,” she says. The salon’s carefully mismatched vanities and stylist workstations prove her story, and the result is a rustic yet bright atmosphere that warmly captures both the past and the present. It’s just like Monique intended. “Have you seen Steel Magnolias?” she asks. “That’s what I was going for. I wanted a place that was very much a hangout, where people relaxed and talked and supported each other.”

Despite the speedy opening, it took her a long time to get here. It wasn’t always obvious to Monique that hair was her passion. The first hint came in the ‘90s, when she was a teenager bleaching her friends’ bangs. “We all wanted that bright front streak, so we used somebody’s facial hair bleach kit,” she laughs. “I think that was the first time I got into color.” Still, after graduating from San Pedro High School, she decided to study English at Long Beach State in hopes of becoming a teacher. But it slowly became clear that she liked her side job, doing makeup, more than the prospect of teaching. She pivoted, and she graduated from Aveda Beauty School not long after college.

Like many San Pedro natives, after finishing school, she left her hometown and worked as a stylist for salons in Long Beach and Redondo Beach. Little by little, she mastered the basics of hair and more. At the retro-themed parlor The Avenue, she learned to create the classic yet challenging hairstyles of decades past. “I did beehives, birdcages, and so much more, but victory rolls were my favorite,” she says. It was also here that her vision for the future took shape. “At The Avenue, I really saw how I’d like a shop to be,” she explains. “The owner was very kind and made it like a family, and I absolutely loved it.”

Inside Birdcage Beauty Parlour. (photo: John Mattera Photography)

But she was still hesitant to open her own salon. Because stylists build up a clientele over time, leaving The Avenue meant risking the business she’d spent years creating, and it took the encouragement of others to get her to take the leap. “A mentor at The Avenue really helped me,” she recalls. “She told me to make the new salon my home, and I did.” Taking that advice to heart, she found a space in San Pedro and named it Birdcage Beauty Parlour after her daughter’s nickname, Bird, and the classic hairdo she’d learned at The Avenue. She filled the space with mementos that reminded her of family — in addition to the chandelier, a drawing of a bird made by her daughter hangs on the wall. “I think she made it when she was nine,” she says. “It was my first picture in here.”

Even her eight stylists are much more than employees, and Monique takes great care to ensure that the salon remains the welcoming space she’d always wanted. “I’m very picky about who I bring in here,” she says, “and I consider these girls family.” With that, of course, comes the other side of the coin: seeing her staff move on. “One of the most difficult things is that I’m very sad when they go,” she says. “It’s always for good reasons, but I get so invested that it’s hard to watch them leave.” Thankfully for her, they don’t seem to stray far — one of her former employees opened a shop just around the corner, and another works at the Birdcage on Fridays solely to stay a part of Monique’s world.

Because so many of her friends and former staff are close by, Monique feels compelled to extend her Steel Magnolia’s vision beyond the salon’s four walls. She’s in good company, too — hers is just one of nearly a dozen salons downtown that view themselves as teammates instead of competitors. From sharing extra product to even referring customers to one another, the shops prefer cooperation over competition. “If a customer comes into a salon down the street and they can’t take them, that salon will send them over here,” says Monique. “There’s no rivalry between us down here, I think that’s an accomplishment. This town is very supportive of its people.”  

With such a strong sense of community, it’s no wonder that she struggles to pick her favorite thing about running the Birdcage. Even though she’s won contests for her color work — an ocean-themed purple and blue balayage job won her a hefty supply of product from Joico — it’s the people that walk through her doors that motivate her most. “I love being creative, but it’s a gift to be a part of people’s lives,” she says. “Hair is the crown you wear, and it’s a very personal thing you go through with the person in your chair.”

Though she’s not exactly sure what the future holds for the Birdcage, she suspects it will be guided by the same voices that brought it into being. “My husband’s already talking about a spa,” she laughs. “I don’t know about that yet, but I did just hire a girl who does waxing.” What is certain is that she’ll continue to shape — and be shaped by — the community that she loves. “I’ve been here my whole life, and there’s really nothing like it,” she says. “I don’t want it to change too much, but this town has a lot of potential, and I’m so happy to be a part of that.” spt 

Birdcage Beauty Parlour is located at 412 W. 7th St. in downtown. For more info, call (310) 684-1218.

Nadia Nizetich