Heidi Prado’s Bella La Vie Wig Boutique
By Richard DuPertuis
Queen of the Good Hair Day
By Richard DuPertuis
Photos by James Mazzotta
IT'S LATE AFTERNOON at Bella La Vie in Redding, and ladies without their red hats are wigging out. The downtown wig shop booked a party for The Red Hat Society, and now the store is filled with members swapping hairpieces, quips and much laughter.
“Oh, that’s me, Mama,” growls a seasoned citizen trying on a mane of silver. Her friends hoot in appreciation.
Another woman dons a bright blue offering that triggers mock sarcasm from across the room: “Oh, that’s EXACTLY your color!”
Between them, a third partier glances in a hand mirror and declares, “Look at this! Wild and woolly!”
This is exactly the atmosphere store owner Heidi Prado wants in her wig boutique. “When I went out looking for wigs for myself, I found the experience cold and terrifying,” she says. “I wanted to change that.”
To help with the mood, she and her one employee, Melinda Kimp-Groennings, set out a gourmet selection of refreshments, table after table of meats, cheeses, vegetables, fruits and beverages ranging from coffee to wine. “The party and refreshments are free,” Prado informs her guests.
She cruises the party, giving fitting tips and other advice. “Generally, you try a wig on without makeup,” she says to a Red Hatter. “If you like
it without makeup, you’ll love it with makeup.”
To another, she says, “If you don’t like it, we’ll give you a 100% refund.”
At the end of party, Prado hands one wig to a customer, free of charge. She explains she can do this because of this wig’s unique history. It comes from the Chicks N Chaps fundraiser held last spring.
“I donated 25 wigs for auction to raise funds for cancer survivors,” she says. “All the wigs sold; all the money went to Chicks N Chaps.” Then the women who won these wigs all donated them back to Bella La Vie, leading to what Prado calls a “double donation.”
“They knew that these wigs would go to somebody for a medical reason,” she explains. “We give those wigs away.” Referring to today’s recipient, she adds, “She told me she was going through a medical process, which was why her hair was falling out. So she got it for free.”
Prado first started looking at wigs because of her own pattern baldness. “I had to go to Sacramento for wigs,” she recalls. “I tried going online, but it was horrible. You never knew what you were going to get.”
Eventually, Bella La Vie Wig Boutique – Italian for The Beautiful Life – was born out of two necessities: her hair needs and those of women she knew. She knew they didn’t like their wig options in the big city any more than she did, and she designed her store to counter what she saw as big problems with most wig vendors.
“First, you’re scared. You really don’t know what you want,” she says. “And you might be losing hair because of chemo, so it only adds to the fear. Other stores felt impersonal, cold, when I was feeling vulnerable.”
In addition to wanting Bella La Vie to be warm and inviting, Prado wanted to provide some instruction, rather than abandon a customer in displays of hair. “I hold your hand and show you how to do this,” she says.
The last problem she overcame was expense for a new wig. “Other stores charge you for trying on wigs, and a lot of them limit how many you can try on. We don’t charge anything for that,” she says. “I like to say we offer internet prices with boutique services.”
This combination of purpose and service has apparently appealed to the Redding-area wig shopper. Bella La Vie opened April last year with a selection of 45 wigs. Today, Prado offers three rooms of shelves. “We have at least 120 wigs,” she estimates. “And I can get you almost anything available.”
She proudly displays in her shop the 2017 Redding Chamber of Commerce “Outstanding Customer Service” award.
Prado can be found in her shop Monday through Thursday, but she turns things over to Kimp-Groennings Friday and Saturdays so she can perform in a local band, Hill Street Band, singing and playing keyboards. She says through her love for music she found the love of her life, husband-to-be Michael.
“It was at practice. A band member said, ‘I’m going to bring my brother. You can’t fall in love with him.’ I immediately fell in love with him,” she laughs. “I thought I was going to get kicked out of the band. I had to practice with my back to him.”
Prado clearly has fun with her customers and is quick to laugh, but she has developed a serious philosophy around wigs. “People are genetically programmed to seek out health in others,” she muses. “It’s important to look attractive to a mate. People treat you well, and it builds your self-confidence.”
She says you reflect on the outside what you feel inside. “When you look good, you feel good,” she says. “And with the right wig, it’s like, I’m having a good hair day.” •
Bella La Vie Wig Boutique • 1700 Market St., Redding • (530) 355-7375