Magic Fingers. That's what Laura Riley's customers will remember her for. Well, that and the great haircuts and hair styles she gave them.

Oh, and one more thing. All the fun and great times they had together over the years.

It was a tearful week for Laura and her customers when Laura layed down her scissors to cut hair no more and blow dry her last style.

She decided to close Laura Riley's Beauty Shop's and retire after 49 years.

It was a bittersweet "Good-bye" because her customers were more than that...they were her friends.

Laura had hoped to make it 50 years but trouble with her arms and shoulders helped her come to the decision to end an era now.

That era began when Laura graduated from Palmerton High School in 1962. Her father paid $425 for her to go to Allentown School of Cosmetology.

She began her first job at Marie Shupp's Beauty Salon in Palmerton. Her very first customer was Dr. Naab's wife.

"Marie told me, 'Do Rosemary Naab' and I was scared. But when I was finished, I couldn't wait to come back and do it all again," Laura says.

She worked at Marie's for six years, honing her skills and building her confidence.

She decided to open her own shop in 1969 at the old Palm Theater on Delaware Ave. Rosemary Naab followed Laura.

"I had to. She knew every hair on my head," chuckles Rosemary.

"We're friends. We've been through everything together. Even babies. Rosemary was pregnant with her seventh child when I was expecting my first," says Laura.

When the building burned, she opened her shop where Green's Barber Shop was uptown on Delaware Ave. She moved back downtown next to the old drycleaning store and the Niagra Bank. Then she heard Earl Seip's house at 456 Delaware Ave. was for sale. She and her husband, Dan, bought the place in 1988 and converted the whole downstairs into her salon.

"It was great. It had a waiting room, a wash room, drying room and a styling room. The upstairs was an apartment," says Laura.

Times change and so does hairstyling. Years ago women came to the shop once a week for a wash and set. Many women came for perms.

"Young people don't do that. And now women come in every five to six weeks for color and cuts."

She no longer worked five days a week.

One day Fred Reinhard, president of Pencor Services, Inc., one of her customers, was getting a haircut and asked if he could rent the front of her shop for a TIMES NEWS satelite office and she agreed.

A few years later, sitting in her styling chair, they struck another deal when Reinhard asked to purchase the building, allowing Laura to still have her shop in the back.

A couple of years ago, Laura only opened her shop two days a week for her regular 21 customers.

"It's time to call it quits," she says with mixed feelings.

There's lots of regret because she'll miss her friends but she's also looking forward to spending more time with her two sons, Darrin and Matthew, and their families.

She will be doing some baby-sitting for two of her four grandchildren, more volunteering at her church, St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox in Bethlehem and have more opportunities to play cards, go to movies, read and gardening.

Laura has a lifetime of great memories of her time in her shop.

"It was always a fun place to be. Everybody laughed. Sometimes I got a little behind. But no one seemed to mind. One time I had two of my customers wash another customer's hair to help me out and the hose got away from them and flew around, getting everything and everybody wet. We laughed so hard."

"I always told my kids, if you like your job half as much as I love my job, you'll be okay."

She's silent for a minute and then adds, "When you did a hairstyle and your customer loved it, it was such a high. You didn't need drugs."

Betty Smith of Walnutport has been a loyal customer and friend for over 40 years.

"She really does have magic fingers you know. And it was always so much fun to come to the shop. We had so many good laughs here," says Betty.

Another of her faithful customers was Matthew, who had been coming to Laura since he was in college.

When he graduated, he moved to Allentown but he still came to Laura's every five weeks for a haircut. He received his last one last week.

The late great Lily Edwards was a long-time customer.

"She told me once that I couldn't retire until after she died," Laura says with fondness. She didn't.

There was always hot coffee brewing and fresh donuts from Arner's Bakery for her friends and her last two days were no exception with coffee, tea and homemade cakes brought in by her friends.

Laura thought it was only fitting that since Rosemary Naab was her very first customer, she should be her very last customer.

"I will miss you terribly. Everybody will miss you," she says to Laura. "You and your magic fingers."

Laura's magic fingers will now take a much deserved rest but she wants to thank all her customers with a grateful heart.

"Without loyal customers, you have no business," says Laura. "And thanks to my business, I made a lifetime of great memories with some of my dearest and closest friends."