Weehawken resident Jackie Cruz says she would not have been able to bounce back after a fire destroyed her Union City salon in 2004 if it wasn’t for her customers. But being Paul Anka’s hairstylist helped too.
Her connection with the famous crooner has gained Cruz her own mark of fame in the community.
Anka – a Canadian singer, songwriter, and actor – became famous from the 1950s to the 1970s with hit songs “Diana,” “Lonely Boy,” and “Put Your Head on My Shoulder.” He also wrote the English translation of Frank Sinatra’s hit song “My Way” set to the French composition “Comme d’habitude” (translates to “As Usual”). He’s appeared in a dozen films, worked alongside Michael Jackson, and been involved in many other big projects.
But to Cruz he’s a mentor to whom she casually refers as “Mr. A.”
“I’ve been his hair dresser for about 20 years and still today,” she said, sitting at Bella Vista Salon, at 4315 Park Ave. in Union City.
Cruz, originally from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, initially had a salon on 36th Street and Park Avenue. On the week of Valentine’s Day in 2004, fire devastated a discount store next door to Cruz’ salon and affected five businesses.
At the time, 12 years ago, the Union City Reporter quoted Cruz – who was marking her fourth year at that salon – as saying, “It’s not the end of the world. It could turn out to be a blessing in disguise [and] I owe it to my customers to bounce back from this.”
“Instead of decorating walls, I thought, I could decorate people.” – Jackie Cruz
“I had so many clients that I had met during my four years that I was there, who were incredibly loving and supporting,” Cruz told the Weehawken Reporter this past week. “I basically lost my business overnight. But I kept going. I was going from home to home with luggage to take care of my clients at their homes until I knew I found another [location].”
In 2006, the new business became a reality with the help of long-time dedicated public servant and former Councilwoman Elaine Finnerty, who found her a vacant space for a new salon on 43rd Street. Cruz, who refers to her clients as “my girls,” says once she reopened, 80 percent of her customers came flocking back.
Cruz has worked at a number of elite salons in New York City such as Georgette Klinger Facial Salon, Minardi Salon, and Laura Geller Makeup Studio. She’s also worked as a filming hair and make-up artist for Chubb Insurance.
Her specialty is hair, having attended the now-defunct Wilfred Academy in Brooklyn.
Cruz said wall design was her initial calling, but while volunteering as a high school student for a modeling show at Bryant Park in New York, she decided to change directions.
“When we finished helping out, I stayed behind looking to see how they were doing the hair and everything,” she said. “Instead of decorating walls, I thought, I can decorate people.”
Cruz, whose parents were born in Dominican Republic, said they were not initially supportive of her aspirations. But “when they saw I was serious, they became supportive.”
She laughs while recalling cutting hair in her bedroom for people in the neighborhood, while her mom worked as her personal cashier and manager.
Today she is happy to say she’s made nearly a decade at her salon. A simple mosaic of décor covers the walls of Bella Vista Salon (which translates to “Beautiful View”), with art by Cruz and some contributions from local artists.
Bella Vista Salon specializes in hair but Cruz will look to soon add manicures, pedicures, and waxing, as well as launching an official website. She has, and will continue to, open her doors for book readings, spiritual talks, personal yoga workshops, as well as classes with experts on silk scarf painting, jewelry-making, and make-up classes.
Despite just recently becoming a certified health coach in 2012, she has always made sure to use organic products at her salon.
Although Cruz has a business, she still travels the world to meet customers that need her services – with trips to a range of places like Florida, Spain, Colombia, Argentina, California, San Francisco, Ecuador, and London.
“I feel that since I’ve been so many places and met so many people, my salon is inviting to anyone no matter where you’re from or your age. My customers range from a one-week old, to 98,” Cruz said.
Cruz has been behind the scenes in the past and even helps out today when Anka, 74, performs live or appears on television.
When asked her favorite memories with Anka on the road, she said “I’ve been with him for so many performances, so many different venues, that I can’t just think of one. People don’t realize he composes for TV and for film. The man is going to be 74 years old and he’s still performing at his peak.”
Anka, Cruz says, “puts the kids to shame with his work ethic.”
Among the famous faces she’s encountered throughout her years with Anka are Regis Philbin, Barbara Walters, Sting, Sylvester Stallone and President George W. Bush.
“But I’ve been most starstruck by Mohammed Ali,” she said.
For evidence of Cruz’ amity with Anka, one need look no further than a framed music sheet of the song “My Way,” which Anka gifted to Cruz recently.
“To Jackie,” reads Anka’s message in black marker. “Through all the years, you are the best. We all love you.”
Steven Rodas can be reached at email@example.com.