MANCHESTER, NH – Before she gives a tour of her new Kriss Cosmetics salon on South Main Street, owner Kriss Blevens must share the story of how it came to be.
Well, two stories, the second leading back to the first.
The condensed version goes like this: Despite all of her original intentions, she is powerless over the pull of the universe. Instead of moving her successful beauty boutique from Elm Street to the West Side to create something bigger and better, she is now the owner of two boutiques. The spirit moved her.
This kind of thing happens to Blevens, a lot.
A former Miss New Hampshire and beauty expert, Blevens has made national headlines for her cosmetological handiwork, including primping and prepping rock stars and presidential candidates for national television appearances – most notably, Hillary Clinton, who looked so good after her session with Blevens in 2008 that the national media speculated Clinton must have had a facelift.
She hadn’t. She’d just been under the influence of Blevens, whose trademarked Kriss Cosmetics are only part of the magic. The rest comes from Blevens herself, who exudes positivity and peace as a strong advocate for women and self-love, something that has guided her to where she is today.
Simply stated, she stopped trying to figure everything out herself, and follows God’s lead.
On a recent afternoon she is sitting by a sunny window in the new space on Second Street with her friends, Sharon Curole and Judy Hibbard. Curole is there to bless the space with a ceremonial sage smudging, a “spiritual spring cleaning,” as she calls it.
Blevens settles in to tell the women the whole story, of how she came to inhabit the old house on the city’s West Side. It was quite random. She saw a small ‘for sale’ sign in an upstairs window during a drive-by.
She made an appointment to see it, and pulled into the lot when she noticed an older man selling junk from a heap of stuff in the adjoining lot. Her eye was caught by a statue of the Blessed Mother, and she was compelled to buy it for $10.
“I got a vision of the beauty vortex here, and immediately could see everything I ever wanted to do come together in this building,” says Blevens, holding the statue on her lap as she continues her story.
She met with the building owner who agreed to sell her the place, but he went on to tell her that the women who were currently operating a salon in the building had no idea he was trying to sell it. He swore Blevens to secrecy about the sale, which would be taking place in four weeks.
“I learned the women who’d been here for 10 years went through hell in this building – through a foreclosure and a divorce and all kinds of drama. This place has not been loved in a really long time,” says Blevens.
She was uncomfortable about not being able to communicate with the women who were renting the space and about to be put out of business.
“Here I am giving him my word, and of course I wanted the deal to go well – because I felt the pull of it. I gave him a deposit knowing that I was buying not only a building, but a situation,” Blevens said.
And she kept her word.
But two weeks before closing the universe stepped in. She was holding a small workshop for a friend at her Elm Street location, a spiritual workshop centered around an ancient story about a woman who goes down into the darkness and emerges into the light.
“It’s one of the oldest stories ever told, about powerful women and following your soul. So we get there to set up and a few women come in who were invited by my friend, and this one woman is asking my friend about the new location, and my friend tells her that it’s hard to describe the location, so she shows her a picture, and this woman says, ‘Oh my God – that’s my best friend’s salon. That would explain all the funny stuff going on,’ and so, even though I had given my word, I told her that she should go ahead and tell them,” says Blevens.
What happened next shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows Blevens, or who understands that sometimes situations that may seem bad are often simply a next step toward a better place.
“The conversation began as a bumpy road of understanding as I find myself talking to this woman, who’s in fear that her business of 10 years is about to be gone. I realized that I had to look at it from a spiritual perspective. Here are three women feeding their children, and whose lives and livelihood are all wrapped up in this place. Through a lot of tears and a lot of freak-outs, these three women, who knew nothing about me, are now working for me,” says Blevens.
She realized the right solution was to not give up her lease on Elm Street, but to extend it by gutting the interior and creating a salon and retail space, where the women, formerly of Lavish Salon, are now being trained in make-up and lash extension.
“They were struggling so hard. They had no marketing sense, but they are damn good at hair. They were stuck and depressed, and now they’re operating in a whole new world,” says Blevens.
Hibbard and Curole are nodding in the affirmative, both of them as connected to the spiritual realm as Blevens, who is ready to start the tour. “Come see,” she says to the two women as they all stand up and head for the rear of the salon.
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“Wait, wait! Sit down. I almost forgot,” Blevens says, still holding the statue and repositioning herself in a sunny spot for the second story.
“So the day we closed on the building – the day before Valentine’s Day – the first article I brought in was this statue. I placed her in a front window along with a little dish that says ‘Be still and know…,’ that a dear friend had given me – same that that’s on my tattoo. So I got down on my knees upstairs and I said a prayer of cleansing on this entire place, that it would be a place of love and healing, of creativity and wonder and of opportunity,” says Blevens.
What followed was a 12-week renovation blitzkrieg of the two buildings so that everyone in her universe could find their right place. As she began decorating the Second Street space she had the realization that it was actually a homecoming.
“I’m a West High graduate, and even though I grew up in Bedford, this was my stomping ground. Here, I’m home; I’m comfortable and I know that by purchasing this big old building, I’m here to stay. I understand that my life journey as a practitioner in beauty is based here, in my home. It’s not about makeup; it’s about people,” says Blevens. “But wait, it gets better.”
She tells Curole and Hibbard how she had previously on impulse purchased the stained glass windows from the old St. Peter’s chapel on Kelley Street, with the idea of using the century-old windows in her own home, along the Piscataquog River.
“I only used two in my house, but I ended up strategically placing the rest of them throughout the salon,” she says. “I feel it gives this place a true spiritual vibe.”
Renovations coincided with Lent, a season that coincides with the tragic death of Bleven’s step-daughter, Amber Blevens, who died of a heroin overdose at the age of 22 on April 23, 2014.
“Easter Sunday was last time we saw her alive. So here we are a year later on Easter Sunday, because of our grief and because we’re workaholics, Mark and I were sanding and painting with the agreement that we’d stop around 1 p.m. and join our family, when I hear a knock at the window. I look up and see a little boy,” Blevens says.
She says hello to the boy and they exchange first names.
“He says, ‘This is the magical place that I come to escape to,’ and tells me how he likes to sit up in the back of the parking lot by a certain tree when he needs to get away. I ask him how old he is, and he says, ‘This many,’ holding up five fingers. I notice he’s wearing a diaper and jeans with the tags still on them,” says Blevens. “Then I ask if his parents know he’s here.”
The boy told her that his father is in jail, and his mother is trying to ‘get her medicine’ but can’t get any money, describing some bad scenes from his everyday life. Then he tells her that his grandparents have come for him, and that he has to go.
Blevens looks out the window and sees a car filled with junk.
“He says, ‘Bye, Kriss. I’ll be back,’ and my heart went crazy over this kid,” she says, “The next day I’m in the same room, sanding and painting and he taps on the window again, ‘Kriss, I brought someone I want you to meet, my mother.’ So I go outside and she’s standing there, and she looks just like our Amber – red hair, blue eyes, covered in welts all over her face. I tell her she has quite a magical boy, and she breaks down.”
The boy’s mother told Blevens she was a heroin addict and that should couldn’t go on any longer.
“That turned into a two-hour conversation and a plan for her to get into recovery. I told her where to go to get help. I haven’t seen her since,” Blevens says. “Oh, and the moral of the story? The man I bought the statue from? That was the boy’s grandfather.”
“Of course he is,” says Curole.
“But that’s what happens around Kriss, that’s how it works,” says Hibbard.
Blevens has spent the past year going public with her step-daughter’s story of addiction, giving testimony at the State House and speaking out, in hope that her advocacy for recovery will help save others.
“I don’t think I told you, but Mark was at work and stumbled upon a woman who was drug-addicted, he told her to call me, and she did, and she ended up painting this whole place. She’s two months sober,” says Blevens. “The magic is already happening here. It’s unbelievable.”
Maybe to some, but not so unbelievable to Hibbard and Curole.
“You chose the right building at the right time in your life for a lot of people, not just yourself,” says Curole.
“You know what she does? She follows the voice, she follows the spirit, wherever the spirit leads her she’s willing to go,” says Hibbard.