There was a problem with the playhouse Anjalee Dreher had as a girl: It lacked an electrical hookup, meaning she couldn’t curl her hair.
So Dreher, who grew up in Ohio, had her dad wire the playhouse with power. At age 7, she was doing hair and makeup for her mom.
Now 36, the Chesterfield resident has since upgraded her digs to a life-sized salon — Heaven Hair Gallery — that she owns on Park Avenue in Keene. The business has around a dozen employees and tries to “elevate” a typical haircut experience for its clients, Dreher said. And yes, it has electricity.
“Hair’s always been an extreme passion of mine,” she said. “… I truly feel as if I have the best job in the world.”
Dreher got started early, going to cosmetology school at just 15. She moved to the Monadnock Region a little over a decade ago, spending the next few years working at area salons, but said she dreamed of having her own place.
“From the time I was really little, I really wanted it,” she said. “I always manifested a big salon … with big windows and lots of space.”
Dreher got her own salon — though a more modest version — when she opened Heaven Hair Gallery on Vernon Street in 2015.
The 300-square-foot shop, which Dreher referred to as a “hole” in a recent blog post, was all she could afford at the time, she told The Sentinel. To save money, she used a single box fan in both her salon and apartment, shuttling it between the two places each day. It took her months to save up enough to paint the inside; the exterior coat never got redone, so she covered part of it with a simple wooden lattice.
When a different salon left 670 Park Ave. — a much larger space — four years ago, Dreher said the landlord, whom she knew, asked if she wanted to move there.
She jumped at the opportunity, even though it meant her monthly rent would go “from a few hundred to a few thousand,” she said. It took a couple years for the new location to get off the ground, she said, recalling that having enough dirty towels each night for a single load of laundry meant the shop had been busy.
“I opened with one employee,” she said. “I just had faith and a lot of hard work and lots of nights up awake, stressed out. But I just knew what my vision was.”
Heaven now does around 10 laundry loads per day, according to Dreher. She still cuts hair sometimes but said that with a stylist at every chair, she can also concentrate on the broader aspects of running a business.
Much of that involves making sure clients get more than just a haircut, she said, explaining that an appointment at Heaven includes a “killer” shampoo and various massages. She also encourages her stylists to truly connect with clients, especially through humor.
“I want everyone to leave feeling like a totally different person,” she said.
Dreher’s efforts aren’t lost on her customers.
Spofford resident Mary Annear said she met Dreher when Heaven was expanding to its current location and “felt at ease with her immediately.”
“She prides herself on being a ‘professional day maker,’ and she achieves that every single day, with every single interaction she has,” Annear wrote to The Sentinel in nominating Dreher for an Extraordinary Women award.
In recent years, Dreher has adopted an even loftier mission, using her perch to help raise funds for local nonprofit organizations and others in the community.
Those projects have included sponsoring youth baseball teams, giving out gift cards to area restaurants to help boost their sales during the pandemic, and raising more than $500 for a family in need last Christmas by raffling off beauty products at the salon. To celebrate Earth Month the past two years, Dreher has planted succulents in old hair-product containers and sold them to clients, donating the proceeds to The Community Kitchen in Keene and Fast Friends Greyhound Adoption in West Swanzey.
Last month, Heaven held a back-to-school haircut event to raise money for the nearby Cedarcrest Center for Children with Disabilities. Including a donation from Dreher’s fiancé, Tom Call, who owns an excavation firm in Bellows Falls, she said the two businesses cut a check for more than $1,500.
“The checks are getting bigger and bigger … which is an even better feeling,” she said.
While many companies have struggled during the pandemic, Dreher said her salon thrived.
A state-mandated closure for nearly two months last year gave her a chance to do “all the things that I never had time to do,” she said, such as taking product inventory and writing thank-you notes to her clients. Heaven reopened with many new staff members and customers, she said.
“When the governor announced we could open, I was ready,” she said.
The past year has been unprecedented in a different way for Dreher, who gave birth to her first child, Christian, last September.
Christian spent his first two months in an intensive care ward at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon because he was born without an esophagus, Dreher said. That period was “horrifically stressful,” she said, since COVID-19 protocols at the hospital kept her from kissing him or getting close without a mask.
Now healthy, Christian spends much of his time with Dreher at the salon. (No word yet on how he handles a curling iron.)
Admitting that she “can’t sit still,” Dreher said she’s thinking about starting a podcast with a colleague that would include stories from their time in the industry. She also dreams of opening a second location by the time she turns 40.
“I feel like I’m always going to be looking for what’s next,” she said.