For 75 years, thousands of students and customers passed through the doors of the Yuma School of Beauty. Now those doors are closed, signaling the end of an era for the longtime iconic landmark located at 50 W. 3rd St., in Yuma’s historic downtown.
This week, the owners announced the permanent closure of the cosmetology school, which had already closed to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision to close the school did not come easy for owner Marilyn Davis and her daughter, Meredith Young, who has been helping run the business for the last 20 years.
“It was a really difficult decision, it really was. There were a lot of tears. It’s the best decision for our family, the best decision for her and for me,” Young said.
“It was a family decision. This is something that we thought about and came to a decision that was best for us. We are really sorry to leave a hole in the community,” she added.
Her mom, Marilyn Davis, is almost 73. “She’s trying to downsize and have less on her plate,” Young said.
As for Young, “it’s never been my thing, and I’m just ready to move on and do something else.”
Marilyn Davis took over the school from her mother-in-law, Cecil Davis, in 1993. Cecil Davis and her mother, Donna Estabrook, started the school in 1946, but its roots date back to the 1920s in Wisconsin, where they established beauty shops and a beauty supply business.
The duo then moved to Arizona in 1934 and opened a couple of beauty salons in Tucson and then the D&M Salon in Yuma in 1939. D&M stood for Mother & Daughter.
Young is not sure why they chose to leave Wisconsin, but she suspects that it had to do with the weather and probably job opportunities for Donna’s husband.
“Donna was a very independent woman, and she really did many, many things in her life. She was the real star of the school because she got it going,” Young explained.
Unable to find enough stylists for their Yuma salon, Estabrook and Davis started the school in 1946. As Estabrook went back and forth between Yuma and Tucson, Cecil Davis took over more of the Yuma businesses. The first instructor they hired was Bunny Johnson, and she was with Davis for 10 years.
The first graduating class had nine students, and many cosmetology students from Yuma and the surrounding areas have since attended the school. Young isn’t sure exactly how many students have gone to the school, but she’s hoping to pin down a more exact number after going through a room full of old files.
“It’s thousands of students,” Young said. “By the mid-’80s, when our longtime instructor Mercedes Doten retired, they were saying she had taught over 500 students. We went through a really downsized period for about a decade or so when we didn’t have as many students. When my mom took over in the early 2000s, we averaged between 40 and 50 students a year.”
In the 1950s and ‘60s, the school started going pretty strong. Some years it was “bursting out the seams,” and then there were lean years, with maybe a dozen students.
Most of the students were from Yuma, but the school also attracted students from Brawley and El Centro in California. Once the Veterans Administration approved the program in the 1960s and later with the Post 9/11 GI Bill, a lot of military members, spouses and children attended the school using VA benefits.
“It was such a great mix. We were lucky to have good instructors that stayed with us for long periods of time. And we had students and customers who would come in and let students practice on them. It was very symbiotic. And that’s why I think it lasted as long as it did, because of those things,” Young said.
There were periods when the school might have closed, but Young says the community kept it going.
The school has been operating in the same building since it first opened its doors in 1946. “We’re downtown people,” Young quipped. “We were here when nobody was down here. I grew up down here. I lived most of my life in this small, little area.”
The family owns the building, which was built in 1918 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The building, located between Madison Avenue and the alley just before Main Street, is about 10,000 square feet. The beauty school used a little over 3,000 square feet.
“My plans now, and they can change, we are going to be renting out the spaces,” Young said.
The building also housed the family’s longtime Plaza Paint Store, which closed in 2019 after 63 years in business. Plaza Paint dates back to 1956 when Marilyn Davis’ father-in-law, Wesley Davis, opened the store. She and her husband, Bill, took it over in 1977.
At that time, Marilyn Davis noted that it became more difficult to juggle all the family businesses when Bill passed away in 2016 and she would be working towards retiring.
“We thank the Yuma community for supporting us for all these years, and we’re very greatly grateful,” Young noted.
She’s now digging through boxes of old photos and sharing them on social media. But she’s noticed that some decades are missing. She’s hoping to find them as they pack up and empty the space.
The school technically has a couple of more weeks before it officially closes as the last student finishes up her courses and graduates.
The announcement of the closure struck a nostalgic chord in former students and community members, and they have been sharing their memories on social media. Candess Lemanski Urbalejo, a hairdresser now living in Texas, wrote that her great-grandmother went to this school well before her. “Going to this school made me feel closer to her in my adulthood after losing her years earlier. I wouldn’t have that connection to her without the Yuma Beauty School. You not only gave me the tools to provide for my family in the future, you gave me a connection to my past! Yuma will be so much smaller without your halls. Thank you to the staff that worked so hard for us over all the years. I wouldn’t be where I am without you guys.”
“Sad,” Linda Richard Martin said. “I went to Yuma School of Beauty in 1971-72 and returned to be an instructor. School has a wonderful long history.”
“Some of my best memories are from this school,” Daisy Becker posted.
“I graduated around 1995-96. I wish someone could take this school over. So sad Yuma will lose this school that has provided a stepping stone for many Yuma School of Beauty graduates. You will be truly missed,” SueAnna Arnold-Folsom said.