Learning from the Local Nail Salon.

Sam Breach

“You have to be looking for it or know it exists, or else you’ll drive right by it.”

Nestled in between a commonplace health provider and an un-named data service company, a sign with two giant red cartoon kiss marks enclose a blue script, which reads, Tiffany’s Nails & Spa. Light pink window decals artistically advertise the current deals and services.  Other than these bright colors, the shop remains almost hidden amongst the dull, beige stucco of a strip mall.

Upon entering, the nail salon appears to be like any other. A hint of acetone stings the nostrils and the buzz of nail perfecting instruments fill the air. The customers include middle-aged women clad in lululemon workout attire and an assortment of sorority sisters preparing for the weekend. When one observes the nail salon with a critical eye, there seems to be an interesting dynamic at work.

The inside of this quaint salon is cozy and clean. Rather than having harsh black and white posters of women with gaudy 80s hairstyles sporting long decorated nails, the walls are painted a soft yellow and decorated with bright floral paintings. Rather than blaring dramatic monologues from a soap opera, the television is set on low volume to a CNN news report.

Five busy estheticians hunch carefully over the motionless hands of their anxious patrons.  Each woman on the staff is dressed in flashy name brand clothing. Their gem-adorned shirts shine the words GUESS or are carefully embroidered with the gold emblem of Juicy Couture.

The flashy yet immaculate façade their clothing and hairstyles exude seem to conflict with the state of each esthetician’s swiftly moving hands. Short, unpainted fingernails are surrounded by dry and cracking skin, worn with hours of hard work around chemicals.  In comparison to their put together appearances, the estheticians hands look decrepit, inspiring one to consider the toll nail salon labor takes upon their bodies. Most of their faces remain expressionless or have the slightest smiles upon them. The staff appears to be middle-aged save for one young woman in a lace top.

Other than Anderson Cooper’s quieted news report, the squeaky voices of the estheticians are all that is heard.

Customers sit silently as the bejeweled women of Tiffany’s spit elevated phrases of an unfamiliar language to one another. Confusion rests on the faces of clientele as they attempt to interpret any word of this foreign dialect. It is no use. When directly spoken to the estheticians smile, nod humble whispers in broken English and quickly revert back to their comfort zone, speaking the language they know best.

Commotion arises as one esthetician questions her client. “What you do,” she asks while shaking the patron’s hand toward the light and pointing at her redden cuticles. Looking frightened, she reluctantly pressed a nail tool the cuticles, “this hurt?” Unable to take the pressure any longer the woman stands up gesturing the other estheticians attention to the poor state of her client’s cuticles.

The petite woman in the lace top swiftly comes to the rescue. In impeccable English she solves the issue and takes over for her confused colleague. Introducing herself as Tiffany it quickly becomes apparent that she is the Tiffany.

Tiffany attended to the cuticle problem with a cautious grace, talking the client through her each and every move. Paying meticulous attention to detail, she worked until the woman’s nails looked flawless. All the while politely directing her staff to ensure the salon was run perfectly.

She explained that after opening the salon eight years ago and maintaining it successfully since, she has gained understanding of how to properly run a business.

She is constantly updating the atmosphere of the salon, scouting the latest products and up-selling her services nonchalantly.

In the time it took for one manicure, I watched Tiffany convince two young women to pay the extra $10 to add a protective shellac coating to their nails and one girl to improve the appearance of her nails with a $2 daisy design.

Tiffany is the youngest woman working in the shop, the only one whose nails are painted (a light shade of glittery teal) and she is the only one not reluctant to interact with her clients.

Her dedication pays off as customers rave about the quality of her services.

One young woman explains to another seated by her that Tiffany’s is the best nail salon in Boulder. After detailing numerous horror stories she experienced at other salons, from rude estheticians, to infections, to unsanitary conditions, Tiffany’s seems like a safe haven for those seeking pamper for their extremities.

Magalie L’Abbe

The college student continued that nowhere had she been treated better or received a better pedicure than at Tiffany’s.

The more praise she spoke, the more engaged her fellow nail salon attendants became. Within five minutes, the entire salon was absorbed in conversation with one another. After the manicure was finished, women had discovered common interests, shared advice and information regarding community events. The atmosphere seemed to relax as clients approved of their new paint job.

Nail shop culture is a curious thing. The location can provide a forum for unexpected community interaction, a place where friendships form. A place, where if one takes a deeper look, can shed light on an interesting culture.

Tiffany’s is a place that attempts to breakdown cultural stereotypes regarding women in nail salons. The undying integrity of the owner asks clients to question what it takes to work and own a nail salon. The high standards Tiffany holds her colleagues to illustrate the dedication it takes to make it in the industry.

Next time you enter a nail salon, really look at the women who are scrubbing at your feet or clipping your fingernails. What would it hurt to engage in conversation with them, see if there is anything to learn in an unexpected place? What is observed may be surprising.

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