Susan’s Special Needs to Close; Consultations Will Continue By Appointment
(Leslie Ellis, Feb. 17, 2019)
Pleasant Ridge, MI- Being diagnosed with breast cancer plunges a woman into a surreal gauntlet of sterile hospital rooms, unfamiliar medical terms, anxious loved ones and, often, distressing physical changes.
When such a shell-shocked woman walks into Susan’s Special Needs in Pleasant Ridge, she finds more than a boutique offering wigs, turbans, bras and breast forms. She finds a caring guide to help her navigate chemotherapy, radiation and post-surgical challenges.
Now, after more than two decades in business, owner Susan Thomas plans to transform her retail model. The Susan’s Special Needs shop will close by the end of February. Instead, Thomas, 68, will offer her services by appointment at locations throughout Metro Detroit.
“The whole retail landscape has changed,” with more people shopping online, Thomas said. “On a positive note, fewer women need wigs because early stage patients are less likely to receive chemo. And, there are chemo drugs that don’t cause hair loss.”
Closing the shop and becoming a consultant is bittersweet, Thomas said.
The former oncology nurse launched Susan’s Special Needs as a wholesale operation in 1994, following her own breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, as well as the loss of a child.
“Working was my way of coping and healing,” Thomas said. “Instead of focusing on my needs, I could focus on helping others.”
In 2000, she opened the shop’s initial brick-and-mortar location in Ferndale, before moving to the current building in Pleasant Ridge. During the past 11 years, Thomas has helped more than 11,567 clients.
“There wasn’t a store like this that allowed women to talk with someone who would understand what their needs would be,” Thomas said.
Former Susan’s Special Needs customer Jodie Wilson, 38, of San Antonio, Texas, said that understanding had a profound impact on her experience.
“It was not easy losing my hair at 26 years old. I was told Susan’s was the best place to go for a wig. The women who work there absolutely understood what I was going through. Losing my hair was the first outward symbol of my sickness. The rest of the world would now know I wasn’t OK. I couldn’t hide. It was hard to face,” Wilson said. “The women at Susan’s helped me. They even shaved what hair I had left. It was not easy, but having compassionate, understanding women helping me meant so much to me.
“I went with my mother and sister after a chemo treatment feeling awful. I was down. Feeling sad for myself,” Wilson continued. “My hair was falling out exponentially and I was finally having to accept I had cancer. I was emotional to say the least. I left knowing that there was hope. I did not have to feel sad. I needed to feel proud of what I was going through and what I was going to face. These women want to help us face our worst time with the most confidence.”
For Thomas, that was always the goal.
“What I learned (from my customers) is that we’re all out here to support and love each other,” Thomas said. “I was fortunate to be in a business where I got to do that.”
The Susan’s Special Needs phone number will continue to work after the physical shop closes, so customers can reach Thomas to book wig and post-mastectomy consultations, she said.
“Susan’s will always be available,” Thomas said. “I’m looking forward to doing business in a new way.”
Susan’s Special Needs will offer 50-80 percent off all merchandise until the Pleasant Ridge boutique closes in late February. The store’s furniture, displays and office fixtures also are available for purchase. The store is located at 24052 Woodward Avenue in Pleasant Ridge. Even after the store closes, the phone number will work for those wanting to set up an appointment, (248) 544-4287. More info. can also be found online at www.susansspecialneeds.com
The Whistle Stop Diner will take over the space after Susan’s closes.