An engine rumbles, echoing off the cramped buildings along Jackson, Ky.’s Main Street as a chromed motorcycle glides around the corner and into a parking spot in front of Steel Blade Cuts. Breathitt Countian and sole proprietor Ryan Messer shuts off the engine and goes to unlock the door to the city-center salon. Removing his sunglasses, he turns the front door sign to open with a grin.
Messer opened the doors to his salon in October 2020, shortly after graduating from Hazard Community and Technical College’s (HCTC) cosmetology program that May, and during a time in the world when not many people were able to keep their businesses open let alone open a new one.
“A lot of people don’t go to outsiders,” the London, Ky., native explains. “I was nervous about that at first, then that first week I was open I probably cleared close to $700-$800. I’ve been here ever since, and it’s been working out.”
Like many in the region, Messer has battled with his own struggles throughout his life, especially in his journey to become a licensed cosmetologist.
“Everything had to be cut. It was a mess,” Messer says, not talking about a customer’s hair situation but about his living situation when he moved from London more than three years ago.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, Messer had to stop going to barber school and had to give up a $14 an hour job in the London area in 2018 to move to the much more rural Lee County where he was hard pressed to make minimum wage if he could find work at all.
Living in Beattyville, Messer decided to continue his education at the Lees College Campus in October 2018 where the now retired HCTC Instructor Susan Johnson taught cosmetology. Life, unfortunately, didn’t get any easier for him at that time, with bills coming in and winter weather picking up.
“I didn’t have the means to make it to school sometimes financially because there are no jobs in Lee County that will work with your school schedule, and your schedule would be Monday through Friday from like 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” he says. “What job will hire you in Lee County when everything closes at 4 p.m.? It was really tough.”
Helping hands at HCTC got him through many rough patches, Messer says, including making sure he was warm, clothed, and fed at times when he wasn’t sure what he could do otherwise. Tips from customers at the cosmetology program also allowed him some security in knowing he’d have some gas or food money just from coming into school that day.
“There were times when I didn’t want to go to school or wake up or nothing and I’d get calls from the teachers saying hey are you coming in, we need you here,” he says.
“Susan Johnson was a big help to me in my time at school. Without her help and the help of staff and even the president, Dr. Lindon, I don’t know where I would have ended up,” Messer adds.
In the middle of his first semester, Messer relocated again to Hazard and, with the help of HCTC staff, was able to secure housing in the city.
The support of so many at HCTC also helped stoke the fire of Messer’s determination to finish school—and be the best he could be.
“I always thought I’d be kind of good at what I was doing because I try really hard. Yeah, I mess up and stuff, but I feel like if you have a desire to want to do better then you’re going to do better,” he says.
“I really just wanted to get out and cut hair,” Messer adds, chuckling. “Now, I’m cutting 50-60 people a week, making good money, and I didn’t have anything to start with.”
Though his flashy ride may make some think otherwise, Messer is nothing if not humble in his success since graduating in May 2020. He says since his salon has opened, he’s made sure to give back to his community as much as he’s able to.
“One gentleman came in who said he needed to get cleaned up for a job interview in Lexington that he was really nervous about. So, I cleaned him up nice and he tried to pay me, and I said don’t pay me now, pay me later after you land that new job,” he remembers. “He went up there and he got that job and knowing I took a little part in that—because appearance is a big thing in job interviews—it’s really great.”
Messer encourages anyone interested in furthering their education, no matter what program they’re looking into, to invest in themselves and not to wait.
“I went from nothing to a little bit of something I guess you could say,” Messer says humbly. “I’m not better than anybody, I just put my foot down and got it done. If I can do it, then anybody can do it because I didn’t even have the means to do it and I made a way.”
If you’re interested in enrolling in the cosmetology or any other programs at HCTC, contact 606-487-3293.