New Jersey resident Jenny Susana, seated, visits Ivette Infante every couple of weeks to have her hair done on W. 181st Street. PHOTO: Mike Fitelson
From head to toe, if there is some part of your body that you want to look better – or that you want to feel better about – you can find a business on W. 181st Street to take care of it.
There are hair, eyebrow threading, and nail salons galore, places for facials and waxing, beauty supply shops, a gym – there are even three places where you can have your dog groomed.
If you combine these shops that provide beauty products and services with the dozens of clothing stores in the area, there are enough businesses to brand the W. 181st Street strip a beauty and fashion district.
Looking good on W. 181st Street starts at the top – with your hair. There are over a dozen hair salons and barber shops devoted to every customer’s need, from trendy stylists to old-school barbers, and even one catering to children, The Kids Parlor, which recently opened on W. 181st Street near Bennett Avenue.
At Transformation Salon on W. 181st Street near Broadway, Nelson Almanzar, the previous owner and current manager, said there is a good reason for the high concentration of salons and beauty businesses in the area: “For Latinos, it’s very important for how they feel – they have to be stylish, look good all the time. That’s the way they express themselves; their hair has to look good 100 percent of the time.”
“When it comes to hair,” he added, “it’s a lifestyle.”
Across the street at Ivette’s Beauty Palace owner, Ivette Infante said she has been cutting hair in the W. 181st Street area for 17 years. She sees her role as both stylist and counselor.
“If [customers] come and are feeling down they want to feel better, they want to feel good for themselves,” she said in Spanish as a customer translated. “All my clients are happy; they come because they will get the look they want and are expecting.”
While the salons certainly serve a predominantly Latino clientele, several managers say they also cater to Greeks, the Jewish community on Bennett Avenue, and residents living around W. 187th Street and Fort Washington Avenue.
Many shops offer multiple services. Ivette’s does pedicures and manicures. Marijosie Salon on Broadway near W. 180th Street does facials and eye treatments.
Accessorizing the area’s numerous hair salons are a handful of stores selling the products needed to continue to look good, including Total Beauty Supply, anchoring the W. 181st Street strip near Broadway for 16 years.
Here the shelves are packed with shampoos, conditioners, lotions, hair extensions, vitamins, and just about anything that you could imagine using to buff your look.
What differentiates Total Beauty Supply from its corporate competitors, said the manager who goes by Sunny, is its selection of Latin oils and treatments. It sells many of the same products that are used in the local salons. They are so popular, he said, that African-American customers seek out the store.
Unlike the chain’s Brooklyn store, where hair extensions make up about 70 percent of the sales, the most popular items locally are hair coloring products.
“People feel naked without their coloring,” Sunny said, noting that one customer jokes that she has forgotten her natural hair color.
He believes that local trends follow the seasons, with women coloring their hair red in the fall, black in the winter, and blonde in the summer. Women also tend to go curlier in the summer and straighter in winter, he added.
Sunny said his store attracts consumers who know what they want. The best salesperson is typically the customer’s friend, as in: “My friend used this thing. Do you have it?” Typically the only time Sunny’s advice is sought is when a customer seeks a fix for damaged hair, usually from over-relaxing or coloring.
The Transformation Salon stylist who goes by the name Gusho Thee Barber gives Chris Pachi a touch up on W. 181st Street. PHOTO: Mike Fitelson
Almanzar at Transformation also noted that his customers are becoming more savvy. Where he used to flip through magazines with a customer to determine a new look, now people point to the photographs of rappers, Halle Berry, or Jennifer Lopez they’ve downloaded to their smart phones.
Despite the growth of new trendy salons, W. 181st Street’s beauty industry is big enough for everyone, even for customers looking for an old-school shave and a haircut.
Abraham Gaona has owned Abraham Barber Shop since 1988, the last 11 years on Broadway just north of the bus terminal. In his neon-lit store he only cuts men’s hair. He generally only does scissor haircuts, even though some of his younger customers, used to clippers, are a little afraid of the twin blades.
Where many salons stay open late, some well past midnight to capitalize on club-goers, Gaona appeals to the professional and office crowd, opening as early as 7 am to offer customers a trim before they go back home for a shower then off to work.
The level of service and care provided at the local salons also breeds fierce customer loyalty.
Since the first time Jenny Susana went to Ivette Infante 17 years ago, no one else has touched her hair. She still comes in every two or three weeks, even though she moved to New Jersey 10 years ago.
Back within the exposed-brick walls of Transformation Salon, Jen Imbert was halfway through the two-hour process of having her hair blow dried and extensions put in. Every two weeks for the last three years she has stopped in to have her hair done by Eddy Garcia.
“She’s the only one who knows how to do my hair,” said Imbert, who moved to Brooklyn a year ago. “I come in and she hugs me. She’s like my mom.”
Which is probably the best description for the strong relationships that are formed between customers and stylists on W. 181st Street.