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Love letters lure Chilean beautician to Queens

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It was a stack of onion-paper love letters that brought her to this country. In the late ‘60s in Valparaiso, Chile, Elcira Cabello — the owner of Elcira Hairstylists on Woodhaven Boulevard — had started life anew as a single divorcee with only a career in mind.

But then his letters came.

“He loved me. He missed me. He never loved another,” Cabello said, in a deadpan voice, flatly reeling off the phrases her ex- husband wrote to her week after week from his new Flushing flat.

Cabello, 60, with tastefully contoured features and a flawless golden bob, recalled her husband’s words with weathered amusement as if she was only too familiar with the vicissitudes of a man’s heart.

Luis Miguel was then living in Flushing with friends and wrote Cabello a steady stream of letters pleading for her to join him. She did and within a few years brought her Chilean artistry to a corner of Rego Park.

Although she dumped the letters long ago — ”they went in the garbage,” she confessed — she kept the man. “He wanted a second chance,” Cabello said, and she gave it to him.

Call it a knack for seeing one’s potential. But it is what Cabello does daily for the clients of her salon. Her customers, many of whom are getting along in years, come to Cabello for a splash of color, a subtle wave, a reclaiming of an earlier self.

For three years Cabello manicured nails at the salon but in 1974 was given the opportunity to make it her own. She has been there ever since.

A wash and set runs a mere $12. A permanent costs $52.50, while highlighting, touch-ups, and frostings are a little less.

The salon still evokes the 1980s in the large posters lining the walls, touting the coiffed locks of heavily made-up models. Live plants and indoor trees nestle into the store’s corners, bringing life to a sparse and often hushed atelier.

As Cabello will tell you, business is not what it once was. Her customer base has thinned since the ‘80s owing to a steadily maturing and dying population, Cabello said. But still her dwindling clientele is a dedicated group.

“If they have a standing appointment — whether snow, rain, storm, they’re always here. Every week. All year ‘round,” Cabello said.

The women come and speak of their husbands, their tenants, their children and their pets. Cabello, a soft-spoken woman lends a bartender’s ear to their woes and worries. And their kindness does not go unnoticed.

Anna Maria Mikelinich, 76, seated beneath a domed dryer, said the stylists of Elcira’s salon are, simply put, good women. In other salons gossip fills the air like pungent perming solution. But here, she said, “there’s very little. That’s one good thing about it.”

Mikelinich looked around the salon, looking for an image to capture the spirit of the shop.

“There are flowers, plants,” she said. “It makes life. It brings life all around.”

Reach reporter Jennifer Warren by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

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