Toolin’ Around Town: ‘I’ll live my life to the fullest’

Retiring hair salon owner prepares for life of adventure and travel|
Harlan Osborne
Harlan Osborne

Cathi Cordi was in great spirits on her final day at Capelli Hair Salon, and at the farewell celebration honoring the closing of the shop she and her business partner Lorraine Dixon started in the Lan-Mart building 45 years ago.

Although the event marked the end of an era for one of Petaluma’s oldest businesses, the upbeat mood surrounding it felt more like a bon voyage party for Cordi, who’s embarking on a new chapter in her life, one filled with adventure.

“I’ll do what I’ve always done,” said the congenial North Beach-born San Francisco native, who moved here in 1971 with her sons Cordi and Christopher Sullivan. “I’ll live my life to the fullest. Life just happens. You don’t plan every detail. My goal is to become a pickleball player and do more traveling. I want to visit New York City and get the feel and smell of the big city.”

Pickleball would be a natural next step for the energetic Cordi, who, when she moved here, found the tennis courts of McNear Park a welcoming sanctuary for a young woman going through a divorce, and where she and Dixon formed their long friendship. At the park, the two became instrumental in getting the badly deteriorated tennis courts fixed up.

“I was a young woman wondering what I wanted to do,” said Cordi. “I wanted to get into merchandising, but working retail meant working on Saturdays. I didn’t want to do that. Together with Lorraine, we signed up to attend Santa Rosa Beauty College. I acquired a skill and it’s how I made my living.”

Cordi’s first job offer came from Merle Chisholm, who was opening a salon in the Lan-Mart called “Step N To.” She was hired in 1972 and soon Lorraine was hired to do nails before becoming a hairdresser. Eighteen months later they spotted a “For Lease” sign in the Lan-Mart.

“After that, everything sort of just fell into place,” remembered Dixon. “We knew we could do our own thing, so we hired an architect to design the interior and we were off to the races. We didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Capelli — which means hair in Italian — remained in the Lan-Mart for seven years before moving to a storefront at 15 Fourth St., the former site of D&J Pet Shop and years earlier, the Sonoma County Department of Public Health Clinic. Dixon later left the partnership to operate her own skin care, permanent makeup and cosmetic tattooing business.

Cordi fondly recalled her earliest experiences, including several embarrassing moments.

“On the day we opened I accidentally cut into a rancher’s big lambchop sideburns,” she recalled. “He was such a great sport about it. And my first perm was on a man. I was so slow my boss had to come over and finish the job.”

On another occasion, a retired dentist needing a trim got more than he bargained for when Cordi mistakenly grabbed the scissors instead of the thinning shears and whacked off a sizable chunk of his hair.

“I couldn’t breathe,” said Cordi. “But he was very gracious and forgave me.”

More stories include leaving customers under the hair dryer for too long and the time Cordi got locked in the bathroom in the Lan-Mart and nobody noticed she was missing.

“When I started, hair coloring was becoming popular and women’s perms were big, along with scissor over-combs,” she continued. “A lot of clients came in once a week. Saturday used to be the busiest. People were going to parties and socializing. It was the day they needed us. That’s all changed. Now we work a lot of evenings.”

There’s no mistaking the closing of Capelli’s is bittersweet. It was a place where life had its own meaning, where multiple generations discussed births, deaths, marriages, divorces and graduations. Clients and hairdressers formed bonds and grew old together.

“It’s not all about hair,” said Dixon. “It’s about the lives we’ve touched.”

Attending the party was long-time customer Alice Forsyth who said, “It’s been a hub a delight for so many years.”

“Some customers teach us strength and courage,” added Cordi. “It’s beyond hair.”

Many of Capelli’s hairdressers have been there for decades, but none longer than Sandy Sullivan, Cordi’s daughter-in-law, who’s been there for 35 years, followed by Chris Griffith’s 31 years.

The decision to close came unexpectedly but at an opportune time for Cordi, who’s been dealing with rheumatoid arthritis for several years.

“I got a call from someone whose daughters were looking for a shop,” said Cordi. “The two sisters said they wanted to buy Capelli’s. Surprisingly, we discovered their grandmother was my mother’s best friend in San Francisco. I felt it was a good time to begin a new chapter in my life. Fortunately, the new owners plan to retain our current hairstylists.”

Cordi admits that she feels “warm and happy,” which is exactly the way she should feel after 45 years.

“We created years and years of memories and touched so many lives,” she said. “You learn so much about people. It was a gift to be able to work in beautiful downtown Petaluma, an overall pleasure. I’ve enjoyed it for so many years. Now I’m on a new journey. That’s my dream. I’m happy.”

Harlan Osborne’s “Toolin’ Around Town” runs on the second and fourth Fridays of the month in the Argus-Courier. You can reach him at

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