Salon owner achieves success after changing cultures

Posted on Sun, 06/01/2014 - 11:50am

By Beth Robinson

One spring day I lost my coat. I left home wearing it, hung it up somewhere during the day, and did not notice it was gone when the weather turned warm that afternoon. Weeks later I needed a coat again but had no idea where it was. After several years the coat found me when I went for a haircut at the Sheridan Hair & Body Studio. Anna Ivleva, the owner of the shop, pulled my coat out of the closet. She had waited all that time for someone to claim it and finally did some sleuthing to find the absent-minded person who had left it.

Tucked away in the Captain’s Walk, the Sheridan Hair & Body Studio might not be noticed by passersby on the street, but loyal customers, as well as new ones, find their way there each week. And anyone who walks in meets Anna Ivleva. She greets customers at the door, points them to the back room for a shampoo and then colors, cuts and styles their hair. Anna first started at the salon washing hair and then worked there as a beautician for many years before she bought the business from Donna Karkalis in 2001.

In 1989, Anna had arrived in Chicago with her husband and daughter as refugees from the former Soviet Union. Born in Odessa, Ukraine, she remembers the city by the Black Sea with beautiful historic architecture, dating from the time when Odessa was a vacation spot for the European aristocracy. The city’s Opera and Ballet House rivals the best in the world. Today she worries for the safety of her family members who still live there, with the increasing tensions in Ukraine. But when she was young, life in Odessa was more peaceful. She spent six days a week in school, where teachers were strong authorities whom no one dared to question, and in the evenings she joined other neighborhood children playing freely in the apartment building courtyard. She learned Russian and Ukrainian. Interested in fashion, she thought of going into clothing design but chose hair styling instead because she liked interacting with people. She completed a two-year program of study and began working in her field, building up clientele. She lived 20 minutes away from the Black Sea with her husband and daughter, Victoria.

Although she was successful in her career, Anna agreed to start a new life in the United States with her husband and his family. The USSR had a history of denying requests for exit visas, so when families were allowed to leave, they often took the opportunity, fearing that permission would not be granted in the future. Anna and her extended family came here as refugees, forced to leave the Soviet Union with little other than two suitcases each and a small amount of cash. In Chicago they had to learn new customs, laws, expectations and – most important – a new language.

Anna spoke no English when she arrived. She looked for jobs in beauty salons and found a position shampooing hair at the Sheridan Hair & Body Studio. At the same time, she studied English at home and completed the process to acquire a cosmetology license here, based on her previous education and experience. However, making the transition from hair washing to stylist was not easy. She had to prove herself to earn the confidence of customers. She went to work at Georgette Klinger in Water Tower Place for a while before returning to the Sheridan Hair & Body Studio. Little by little, she established herself and won over clients. When the previous owner decided to sell the business, Anna considered her options. Not wanting to lose her regular customers or move to a new location, she bought the salon without really knowing what was involved in running a business. But she learned “on the job,” and 13 years later – in spite of the long hours, missed vacations and additional responsibilities – she thinks she made the right choice.

Outside of the salon, Anna finds time to garden, cook and go to the symphony. But her biggest passion now is painting. Anna recalls that when her daughter, Victoria, moved away to St. Louis, “it broke my heart.” To distract herself from the feeling of loss, she began taking painting classes. Drawing inspiration from the Impressionists, she paints in oil using short, deep brush strokes. Her subjects range from a vase of lilacs to a fashionably dressed woman to Russian peasants. Her paintings have been exhibited in art shows at the Northbrook Library and are included in the magazine Art and Beyond, which is posted online at The paintings also decorate the walls of her salon, one more reason for customers to stop in.