WALLINGFORD — Center Street has attracted so many personal grooming businesses that almost 25 percent of the town’s barbershops, hair salons, nail salons and day spas are either on Center Street between Main Street and Route 5, or within one block.
With that much competition, how do they all stay in business?
The answer, it seems, lies in the nature of the personal grooming industry and the variety of services offered by local cosmetologists.
According to town Health Department records, there are 82 registered hair and nail businesses in town, and 20 in the lower downtown area. Thirteen of them are on Center Street, and seven more within a block.
Cheryl Hair and Nails, 185 Center St., is the newest salon to move into lower downtown. It opened Jan. 8.
Owner Cheryl Ellison, who’s been a hairdresser for 18 years, said she’s the first non-medical tenant to open in the building.
From her home on South Orchard Street, Ellison operated her salon for 14 years. Prior to that, it was located in Yalesville.
“I decided that I was going to change it up, go back out,” Ellison said.
Ellison employs Gabriella Diaz, of Durham, as a nail technician and Belinda Hayden, a Wallingford native who’s been a hairdresser for 50 years.
“We’re all different generations,” Ellison said, “but we all have the same mentality of treating our clients with respect. We’re the ones that make them feel good.”
Hayden said she sings to her customers.
“The oldest one I have, she’s 97 years old,” Hayden said. “I’ve done her hair since she was 43 and I was 16.”
Together, they offer hair color and cuts, texture waves, keratin treatments, manicures, pedicures and facial waxing.
“We love our relationship with our clients,” Ellison said. “They’re not just clients, they’re kind of like our family… We have kids from when they’re born, all the way until they have kids.”
The 1,000-square-foot space also includes a small shop of items of jewelry and clothes from Gotta Have It, of Wethersfield.
She said that she’s more client-based and doesn’t really attract walk-ins.
“Hair salons, in general, are just word-of-mouth,” she said. “We’re not each other’s competitor. I don’t compete with the people down the street and they don’t really compete with me.”
Like Ellison’s salon, Classic Cutz Barber Shop recently relocated from another spot in town closer to Center Street.
In January, the shop moved from 192 N. Colony Road (Route 5) to 35 N. Colony Road, within a block of Center Street.
“We just needed more space,” owner David Ortiz told the Record-Journal last month. “We kind of outgrew the other spot and this was the closest location that we can find from there.”
The new location is double the size of the previous location, with an additional 400 square feet of space.
The shop offers straight razor shaves, fades and hot towel shaves.
Ortiz employs eight barbers. He owns a second location at 2551 Whitney Ave. in Hamden.
Frenchie’s, 5 Meadow St., is a small storefront just off Center Street, located near a barbershop on the corner and across the street from another salon.
Owner Kristen O’Connor attracts a retro crowd, specializing in vintage hairstyles and makeup for women and men. She said she had two clients drive from New Hampshire last weekend.
“I get a mix (of clients),” she said. “It’s not just rockabilly and pin-up girls that come here. I’d say 50 to 60 percent of my clients are just people from Wallingford … Oddly enough, I get a lot of really manly men, like mechanics and metalheads.”
She’s been in the under-1,000-square-foot space, which has customized furniture, equipment and decorations in pink and teal, for nearly five years. Before that, she worked for several years at salons in Wallingford and New Haven.
“I don’t really feel there’s a lot of competition,” she said. “If you’re counting on only walk-in business, then being in this area would probably be awful because there’s so many options. But I’m pretty sure almost all the places around here are more boutique-style, referral and appointment-based.”