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The inspirational woman who built Arnello’s into a Richmond institution

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RICHMOND, Va. -- Change arrives slowly at 203 West Clay Street, which is perfectly fine with Muriel Lee.

The 64-year-old has been styling hair at Arnello’s for three decades.

Her customers expect and receive hands on service.

A healthy dose of history? On the house.

"The salon has been here longer than I have," Muriel said. "It started on 1st Street. It’s been in this building since 1945."

As a business owner Muriel is shouldering the responsibility of not just the bottom line, but the weight of family history.

Muriel’s grandmother, Arsonia Allman, opened Arnello’s in 1933 when Jackson Ward was bustling with black-owned businesses. Few female pioneers matched her grandmother’s determination and success.

"I think at that time everyone knew Arsonia Allman," Muriel said.

Muriel said her ancestor was a cut above.

"Yeah. I would say she was. Not everybody did what she did," Muriel said.

She even introduced her very own line of beauty products. Plus, Arsonia beauty school enrolled GI’s returning from World War II.

“She did teach men. She did teach men,” Muriel said.

Long-time customer Gloria Johnson called Arsonia a no-nonsense entrepreneur who inspired generations of women.

“I tell my grandchildren about this business,” Gloria said. “She was always meticulous with her clothes. Always dressed nice. Always had her hair. She always drove a fine car. Many have come and many have gone, but this business is still standing after all of these years.”

Style wasn’t reserved just for her customers.

“Definitely a fashion plate. And she knew it too,” Muriel recalled. “You can tell she knew she looked good.”

Arsonia passed away in 1987, but tangible evidence of the founder remains -- like the store’s original cash register.

"Definitely want to keep that link between my grandmother and myself,” Muriel said.

As Muriel moves Arnello’s deeper into the 21st century, she is introducing a new generation of the way things used to be.

“Not only do you do their hair. You develop relationships with people,” Muriel said.

Long-term plans for this Jackson Ward landmark remain uncertain.

"I would hate for it to just stop with me," Muriel said. "I can’t see doing anything else.”

Muriel’s only child is an elementary school teacher and is not interested in following mom’s footsteps. This proud hair stylist has no plans on closing the 85-year-old institution anytime soon. Till that day comes, Muriel will serve as caretaker of what her grandmother started so long ago.

"This is her place,” Muriel said.

Hairstyles may come and go, but at Arnello’s Beauty Shoppe tradition is permanent.

Watch CBS 6 News at 11 p.m. Fridays for Greg McQuade’s “I Have A Story” reports. If you know of someone Greg should feature in my “I Have A Story” segment email him.

Watch "I Have A Story" Fridays on CBS 6 News at 11 p.m. If you know of someone with an interesting story we should tell, email

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