Story by Lisa Anderson • Photo by Joshua Jacobs
It Will Get Better
Hairstylist Goes from Great Heights to Bust & Back Again
Kim Fanucci is a well-known hairstylist and business owner in Ocala. Her salon, Austin James Hair Studio, has two locations, and she recently purchased Marion Mobile Bar and Bubbles in late 2021. But, those who have only seen her success over the last several years might not guess that Kim had desperately tried to make eating at a soup kitchen a normal dining experience for her children only a few years prior to opening her first salon.
“When I was going through all of that hard stuff, looking for a job, it got to the point where I wasn’t able to pay rent. I couldn’t pay for gas. So, we’re talking no hot water. Eventually, the electric got cut off. My landlord was coming to me daily. I was squatting at that point. Can you imagine? Literally, just a roof over our heads. We would walk to the soup kitchen to get free food. It was rough. It was bad. I would always make it a big deal, because I never wanted my kids to feel the situation. So, I was like, ‘We’re going out to eat!’ We literally had nothing.”
Six-Figures to Broke
Six-Figures to Broke
At 16 years old, Kim stepped away from high school and earned her GED. Born in New York but raised in Miami, she started working for a salon. She swept up hair and did other odd jobs.
One busy Saturday, Kim’s boss asked if she would cut a little boy’s hair. “Of course, at 16, there is no fear, so I’m like, ‘Yeah, sure! I watch you guys cut hair. I can do that.’ I cut the little boy’s hair, and the dad asked if I could do [his]. The owner of the shop looked over at me and [asked], ‘What are you doing?’ I’m like, ‘I’m doing hair. I got this.’”
That experience changed Kim’s life. She was a natural, and after two years of helping at the salon, she headed back to school to earn her license. Kim quickly became very strong in her field, and managed a high-end beauty salon in Miami, while still cutting hair. She was making a six-figure income, booked a year out, and not taking on any new clients.
As she grew in her field, Kim also became a wife and mother of three, but when the oldest child was 5, the marriage was on the rocks. Kim’s husband blamed the pressure and lifestyle of living in Miami and suggested they move to Ocala.
“I decided I definitely wanted to save my marriage. That was my priority. I believe in vows when you say, ‘until death do us part.’ I took that very, very seriously. So, I let go of my six-figure career.”
Kim knew it would be hard to leave her career behind, because before the days of social media, being a hairstylist in a new city meant starting from square one. It didn’t matter if she had been cutting and styling pageant contestants, models, and celebrities in Miami. Until she could establish a reputation in Ocala, she was a nobody.
However, the move did not improve the marriage. At the urging of her husband, mostly out of jealousy, Kim quit cutting hair after 20-plus years, and she eventually got a job as a butcher at Publix—again, becoming successful enough to be promoted to manager.
“My husband struggled with mental illness and substance abuse, and he attempted suicide one night. That was really hard. I couldn’t live that lifestyle anymore. It wasn’t walking away from him in his darkest hour. He refused to get the help and stay on a plan to get better. I just couldn’t take a chance on my kids being exposed to any of that,” recalls Kim.
She had let her stylist license lapse due to financial problems, but now a single mom, Kim decided she would start saving for the renewal. She continued to work at Publix, and she even found a duplex near Tuscawilla Park she could afford. “I [thought] this will be perfect. This is going to be good for us—not realizing it was in a very bad neighborhood at the time. The house used to be a halfway house,” chuckles Kim.
At one point, a man walked into her kitchen, looking for a place to sleep. That was when reality hit.
Kim’s life continued to spiral. She did not receive child support, and when her car’s engine failed, she was too far away from Publix to walk. She couldn’t afford to fix her car or get a new one. So, she had to let the job go.
It took a long time before Kim could find a restaurant within walking distance that was willing to hire her. It was a humbling and desperate time for this once six-figure hairstylist. She had even been turned down for aid from the state, because she refused to lose her pride (the only thing she had left) and lie to get the aid she badly needed.
Coming Up for Air
Coming Up for Air
Kim finally managed to save some money and found a $500 car. She began cutting hair during the day and bartending at night. “Through all of that, I did meet someone. We lived together and I had my fourth child, who was literally a godsend, because I was struggling. I was in a bad, dark place. I was doing hair during the day and bartending until 2:00 in the morning. I had to be up in the morning to get the kids ready for school. I was exhausted.”
Before becoming pregnant, Kim had been using alcohol to give herself a boost to accomplish all her daily tasks. When she got pregnant, the drinking stopped, and she realized how much she had been using it as a crutch.
Kim separated from her youngest daughter’s father and kept focusing on rebuilding her career as a hairstylist. Then, in 2010—with a bit of luck, some help, and a lot of grit—Kim opened Austin James Hair Studio on Fort King Street, named after one of her children.
It hasn’t been all sunshine and roses since then, but it has definitely been a bright spot in Kim’s life. She is now remarried. She is a grandmother and is loving every moment she gets with family and at her salon.
“I’ve been doing hair since I was 16,” says the now 48-year-old Kim. “It’s not just a job for me. It’s my passion. I love it. Some people ask what my hobbies are, but that is my hobby. Retirement to me looks like doing hair three days a week.”
Kim has never taken her successes for granted. She is a fierce supporter of the community and has used her talents and given her heart to help in many, many ways. Her recent mobile bar acquisition has been a lot of fun for her, as well. It was a bumpy start, while she learned the business, but she now enjoys watching people smile as she hands them a crafted cocktail with crafted ice.
“I hope this touches someone’s heart, or I hope it reaches someone that needs it. You literally can get to a point in your life, through no fault of your own, and lose everything, but it will get better.”