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Broadway stylist with Norwich roots opens community hair salon

When the pandemic hit in March, Norwich resident Lisa Chan-Wylie was on tour with the Broadway production of “Hello Dolly” in Buffalo, N.Y., managing hair and makeup.

The show, like everything else, closed down, and they sent everyone home. Chan-Wylie’s next job was potentially for a coast-to-coast national tour with Aaron Sorkin’s (“The West Wing,” “The Social Network”) acclaimed adaptation of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” one of the highest-grossing Broadway productions of all time. That was canceled, too.

Chan-Wylie lived on the road nine months out of the year, with her jobs usually booked a year in advance. She traveled with touring shows and led the hair and makeup departments.

Many actors wore wigs on stage because they changed character so often. Managing that was Chan-Wylie’s specialty; she also cut the actors’ hair. With the pandemic, everything stopped.

“It’s the day Broadway went dark,” she said.

Chan-Wylie always knew she wanted to open a business in Norwich. Her family has deep roots here. Her father was in the Navy, and she grew up in California.

When her father retired, they moved back to be near their aging parents.

Chan-Wylie’s grandfather brought her to shows at The Bushnell in Hartford. That’s where she got what she calls “a bug for theater,” one that never left.

Chan-Wylie trained at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, Calif. At 17 years old, she worked on hair and wardrobe for Shakespeare productions.

She continued to work in theater her entire adult life, except for a few years when her kids were young and she worked in a salon. In the years that followed, Chan-Wylie was the hair supervisor for national tours of the Broadway plays “Jersey Boys” and “Something Rotten.”

Last year, she worked as the hair supervisor and assistant on Chris Isaak’s national tour. Isaak is famous for his 1989 hit song, “Wicked Game.”

Chan-Wylie lived on a tour bus with Isaak’s crew for nearly a year.

Chan-Wylie planned to retire in Norwich to be close to her parents and grandparents. Three years ago, she bought a house in neighborhood where her mother was born. She would eventually retire from the road and open a small business here.

She imagined herself being very happy and contributing to the local theaters in some way. The pandemic fast-forwarded her timeline.

With so much uncertainty, Chan-Wylie decided to pursue work in what she knew best, doing hair.

Chan-Wylie found a storefront a block away from her house in an old building built around 1870. It needed work but it had local character and architectural details including a beautiful tin ceiling.

Chan-Wylie learned that the building was next door from where her great uncle ran Mac’s Restaurant in the 1960s, named after her family, the McAvoys.

The building owner remembers her great uncle and his renowned Mac burger. Chan-Wylie knew that this location was the right spot for its history, familial connection, and charm.

But she didn’t have a lot of savings when the bottom fell out of her industry. Still, she got a good deal and could do most of the renovations herself. She received support and encouragement from her family and the Norwich Community Development Corp.

The salon is called East Side Quick Cuts and will be open daily except for Mondays. Haircuts are $15, or $20 for hair below the ears.

Chan-Wylie wants her haircuts to serve the people who live in her community. All the safety protocols from Uncas Health are in place. There is no waiting room.

“For right now, I just want to get to know everybody and give them a safe place to get a haircut,” Chan-Wylie said.

East Side Quick Cuts is at 420 East Main St., Norwich.

Due to statewide mandates, haircuts are by appointment only. Call (860) 964-7852, send a message through their Facebook page, or stop by and use the intercom.

Even as Chan-Wylie made a safe landing in Norwich, she still thinks about the Broadway friends she left behind.

“I’m worried about my colleagues,” she said. “We are talking about artists. People who are passionate about their work, who have trained their whole lives to develop very specialized skills. They worked 80-100 hours a week and slept on tour buses and airplanes. And now it’s all gone.

“How do you sell these skills and make a living in a COVID world? I have a hairdresser’s license, so I’m lucky,” she said.

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