Wig-O-Rama is Back in Business, Now in Tiny Space on 6th Avenue

February 13, 2013

By Teya Vitu

The new year was barely three hours old when business operations drastically altered for Wig-O-Rama, 98 E. Congress St.

Fire erupted in the neighboring space formerly occupied by Grill early on Jan. 1 and consumed the restaurant/bar space that had been vacant since November 2011.

Myung Kim moved Wig-O-Rama to a tiny space on 6th Avenue until she can move back into her flagship store.

Myung Kim moved Wig-O-Rama to a tiny space on 6th Avenue until she can move back into her flagship store.

Wig-O-Rama itself suffered minimal water damage – just some leakage into the store directly underneath the rooftop air conditioning system, but owner Myung Kim knew her wig shop wouldn’t be opening any time soon.

“No electricity, no water,” Kim said.

Kim owns the three-space building with Wig-O-Rama, the Grill space, and a bar. Re-opening Wig-O-Rama on Congress is an unknown number of months off, possibly six months, but Kim doesn’t really know.

In the mean time, Kim walked around Downtown during January looking for a temporary location for Wig-O-Rama. She saw a sign for a tiny space in the historic 1917 Arizona Hotel building on 6th Avenue, and re-opened Wig-O-Rama at 35 N. 6th Avenue on Feb. 1. The relocated store is one block over and a half block up from shut down Wig-O-Rama.

“I don’t want to lose my customers,” Kim said. “I didn’t want to go too far. This is a little small but better than far.”

Small is an understatement. Kim’s refashioned Wig-O-Rama measures maybe 300 square feet, no more than about 10 feet across – the width of the bay window stocked with mannequined wigs.

Kim obviously has a drastically reduced stock in this temporary location, maybe 250 wigs total – about 70 of them on display on mannequin heads.

“Today one customer came in. ‘That’s all you have?’” Kim said.

Those are customers used to the full-size Wig-O-Rama, where Kim reckons “more than 1,000 wigs are displayed, maybe 2,000. Lots of people come from out state. ‘I never see that many wigs.’”

Kim’s family opened Wig-O-Rama in 1976 in the building now housing the Tucson Indian Center. Kim moved the shop across the street to the 98 E. Congress spot in about 1985.

Kim immigrated to the United States from South Korea in 1980 to join her family already here.

A month and a half after the fire, Kim displays no dismay about the new normal, at least for now, for Wig-O-Rama. She acquired all new merchandise for the 6th Avenue store. Kim doesn’t know whether any of the Congress wigs can be sold or whether she will have to scrap that entire inventory.

Wig-O-Rama is a Downtown icon with a prominent presence right at Congress Street and Scott Avenue. It’s also one of just a few retail businesses that date back to Downtown’s department store era.

Theater troupes and even movie productions love Wig-O-Rama, but the bread-and-butter for Kim is chemo patients and older women with thinning hair.

“They want some more natural and they want a kind of frosty color,” Kim said. “Old people and medical patients are the shortest (hair). Young people are longer. My customers are mostly over 40. More than half are over 40. I have some young people.  I enjoy talking to people and helping patients. They are so happy, they feel good, when they get a wig.”

Kim helps women choose styles and colors. Often enough, a client thinks she wants one style or color of wig and Kim sees another wig might suit her client better. She knows that something that looks good on a mannequin doesn’t necessarily look as good on a specific head.

She re-enacts a dialogue with a client: “I think that’s too much hair for you. ‘You’re right that’s too much hair.’”

On Congress, Kim had every style, era and color imaginable. On 6th Avenue, that’s just not possible.

“Now I just order what people most like,” Kim said.

But Kim fully intends to return to her grand wig emporium on Congress.

“We go back to there. Some day,” Kim said.