The bald truth about famous hair care shop


Trade Names: A hair and skincare shop which was originally male-dominated, but whose clientele is now spread evenly between the sexes, has stood the test of time. Rose Doyle reports

When it comes to aid for the follically challenged the Universal Hair and Scalp Clinic has a reputation, and renown, second to none in town. This is not only because it was the first place in Dublin to offer specific help for hair and scalp conditions; it's also, in large part, because of the sign.

The Universal Hair and Scalp Clinic sign is a fixture and a landmark. Flashing a wealth of now you-see-it-now-you-don't neon hair for more than 40 years at the corner of South Great George's Street, it's a fondly regarded one of a kind. Regarded enough for a hue and cry to to have rallied concerned souls when it needed saving a few years ago.

The reading material in the waiting room is mostly women's magazines, the walls have photos of treatments in variety, the air is gently perfumed. There's a tv and a spider plant. It's all a reflection of how the clinic has changed over the years.

Ann Goldsmith is the Universal Hair and Scalp Clinic. She's given it devotion, time and much hard work since the very early days. She married into the clinic when she met Sydney Goldsmith, the man who'd had the foresight to set it up in 1962. She's told the story before, and will no doubt tell it again, but her enthusiasm for the tale is unflagging.

Blond, immaculately coiffed, she begins: "I'm from Dublin, but I was nursing in Sheffield in the early 1960s and had alopecia, a hair problem which causes your hair to fall out in patches.

"I wasn't able to get any help for it in the UK and then, when I was home on holiday, I came in here and spoke to Sydney Goldsmith and we became very good friends. He explained an awful lot to me about hair and the scalp and I became interested in trichology (the study of the structure, functions and diseases of the hair)."

Interested enough to "veer off" nursing, take up the study of trichology and, in time, come to work in the clinic and marry the boss. The Goldsmiths combined work with pleasure for 30 married years until Sydney's too early death 10 years ago. "Normally, with husbands and wives working together, it doesn't work out," Ann opines, "but in our case it did."

Sydney Goldsmith was from Brighton, Sussex and studied trichology in Manchester. By the time he decided to open in Dublin he already had clinics in Liverpool and Brighton. "He came over to Dublin in the very early 1960s and decided he liked the look of the place," Ann explains. "He spent months and months looking for the right premises and when he found this one he really did find a good place!"

Sydney Goldsmith had been in business a couple of years when his future wife came to him looking for help.

"There was no one else doing the work in Dublin and the clinic had become very busy almost immediately," Ann explains. "We've stayed the pace all through the years. We treat everyone from road sweepers to film directors. Some people are still self-conscious about hair loss and would come in early, to be treated before anyone else. The Blackrock Clinic is doing hair-transplants now (the Universal has been doing them for more than 20 years) and we're on friendly terms. If I thought someone needed their help I'd refer them on. We build relationships with customers; we've got people from 25 years ago even who come back for a chat, a shampoo."

Ann Goldsmith started work in the clinic in late 1964, after she'd finished her trichology studies. "I think my personal experience with alopecia helped me understand and help people," she says. The single biggest change over the years has to do with gender. The magazines are the clue and the giveaway.

"When we first opened 42 years ago we'd only men coming in," Ann says. "Now it's 50:50 women and men. Women have the same hair and scalp problems as men and, added to this, there's neglect, wrong colouring treatments, hormonal imbalance and, more and more as women compete in the workplace with men, stress."

From early on treatments in the clinic had to do with maintaining existing hair. "We worked on psoriasis, alopetia or just unmanageable, broken and dry hair. We weren't here just for transplants - we concentrated on stopping hair loss. We always ask people to come along when they still have hair; it's too late when they're totally bald." That said, she stresses that they never "promsie miracles".

She says that, because people had nowhere else to go in the early days, the clinic got some "very bad cases. There were six girls working here, clinic operators, and Sydney. We always employed girls, Sydney felt both men and women both were more comfortable with things that way. Sydney used be the only man on the premises. Our methods have always involved scalp massage and medication, high frequency electric current stimulus, oils and work on the blood supply around the scalp. The medication; ointments, lotions and creams; is individually mixed for each patient."

More recently the clinic has been offering a range of skin treatments for acne, fine lines, age spots, dry skin and tightening for sagging skin.

When Sydney Goldsmith died 10 years ago his wife carried on running the clinic herself. They have a son, Anthony, whose interests lie elsewhere.

"This is a great spot," Ann says of the premises, "and we were never even tempted to move. People passing on the bus, in cars, bikes, walking - they all see us. We had problems about the sign at first. The Corporation said it would be a distraction but we fought and got permission eventually."

The rest is history. Taylor Signs erected the famous "Why Go Bald?" sign and, when it was threatened, were the people who renovated and saved it five years ago.

"We thought we'd have to take it down, it was so old and decrepit," Ann says. "It would have cost €2,500 to repair and we were saying no to that. Then Rachel O'Connor, an historian, got a campaign going to save it and Taylor Signs very kindly revamped it completely - and still maintain it for us. They've been really good. We had a big switching on ceremony!"

The latter day fashion for shaven male heads hasn't affected business, and nor did the 1970s one for long hair. The clinic treats children too and Ann Goldsmith stresses that it's "very important to deal with hair problems early on".

For the future she sees the clinic "getting bigger and better, going onwards and upwards. I'm not thinking at all of retiring; I've got to keep up with new treatments. It's all new, new, new in this business."