When clients get something sparkly (like my rock star fingernails; unfortunately, this photo doesn’t do them justice), Heather Reynosa-Davis has them admire their nails in a sunbeam before they leave. She applied Young Nails glitter onto CND Shellac to create my rock star fingernails.

Wasilla, Palmer, and Anchorage, Alaska — Sree Roy, Managing Editor — Much like prospectors during the gold rush, nail techs in Alaska find themselves in wildly different scenarios — some techs strike it rich with a thriving business, while many others get disheartened and drop out of the industry. Alaska, one of the last states to establish a manicurist license, requires only 12 hours of training (and none of that time has to include practical demos) to do nail services in a salon. That translates into techs essentially learning the career apprenticeship-style, hoping that an established nail tech will take the newbie tech under her wing and teach the newbie how to do manicures, pedicures, and (if she’s lucky) enhancements after she’s already started at a salon.


Selah owner Jennifer Cramer (left), Country Cutts nail tech Heather Reynosa-Davis (right), and I pose in front of the cozy fireplace at Selah.

Still, for the techs who find mentors, take their businesses seriously, and treat their clients well, there is a great career opportunity in nails. "I want people to see there is a market here," says Heather Reynosa-Davis, a nail tech who’s lived in Alaska on and off for the last 20 years. Davis earned her license in Nevada (which, as a state with a 500-hour licensing requirement, gave her a head start over most other Alaska techs), then furthered her nail education by becoming a CND grand master nail stylist and education ambassador. She tries to help satiate the demand for advanced nail education in the state by mentoring techs, teaching classes, and networking. One Thursday in July, Davis guided me through Southcentral Alaska on a tour of noteworthy salons and spas.


Selah is located in a former house, which underwent an interior renovation and redesign to become a successful full-service spa.

Selah Salon & Health Spa, Wasilla

Like a lot of salons and spas in Alaska, Selah doesn’t specialize in one area (such as nails), but rather offers a one-stop shop for beauty services, with nails, facials, massage, body care, waxing, sauna, and make-up all under one roof. Not like a lot of salons, that roof is over a residential house (well, now a former house; co-owner Jennifer Cramer lives elsewhere though her parents still live next door) that still retains its homey feel. The garage now houses the hair salon, the living room — with a gorgeous Wasilla Lake view (yes, Sarah Palin lives on this lake; no, she doesn’t go to Selah) — houses the nail area, foyers now house waiting clients, and bedrooms are transformed into treatment rooms. Cramer estimates that nails account for 35% of Selah’s business, and nails are steadily growing. She’s planning on adding more pedicure stations in the near future.


The pedicure stations at Selah are in an airy nail room with large windows that look out onto Wasilla Lake and the mountains in the distance.

Selah gets new clients through word-of-mouth and via a Facebook page, and it maintains relationships through an e-newsletter. Cramer finds most of her nail techs through word-of-mouth or on Craigslist, then has the more experienced staffers train them. Selah nail tech Chloë Moffit grew up in Alaska and got her license in state. She says her true nail training came at the salons where she’s worked, and via Davis, who she met at the local Arctic Beauty Supply and who’s served as her mentor ever since. Moffit has high hopes. She wants to be "the best," is hoping to attend her first trade show later this year, and eventually hopes to follow in Davis’ footsteps as an educator. Today, she’s visiting Country Cutts (where Davis works) to observe Davis apply rock star fingernails to my hands (using the CND Shellac system with Young Nails glitter) and is looking forward to a class Davis is teaching at Selah tomorrow.


As Davis sits at the manicure table to do my nails, her mentee, Chloë Moffit, stands behind her to observe.

Country Cutts, Palmer

Anchorage is fairly metropolitan, but in the small town of Palmer, where Davis works, style trends from the lower 48 take a long time to arrive. "I tell the women they’re wearing ‘mullets’ on their hands," Davis says of some of the outdated nail styles she’s seen. "Some women in Palmer have been wearing almond-shaped nails since the ’80s — so long that now they’re back again."


Country Cutts owner Stan Guthrie takes a minute away from a hair client to pose for a photo with me.

To get clients to try new products, like Minx or Shellac, Davis guarantees that if the client doesn’t like the new service, then her next service will be on the house. She’s refreshed the looks of a lot of clients this way. Plus, she updates the "current trends" tab on her business website every spring and fall so clients have a go-to place for the latest styles.


To inspire her clients to try new styles, Davis displays cutouts from CND’s seasonal LookBook in a frame by her manicure table. "I hope ‘greige’ comes here," she says of the trendy color that’s been seen on many fashion runways.

In part due to her husband’s job, Davis has changed salons multiple times in the past few years, but every time she builds up a steady clientele within three months. "People want to know how my clients are so loyal," Davis says. "It’s because I act like every time a client is in front of me I am interviewing for my job." Davis doesn’t purchase advertising, but recognizes that, especially in a small town, positive word-of-mouth is crucial. Plus, while she doesn’t offer discounts to entice new clients, she will sometimes give discounts to her long-time clients for their loyalty.


Ice Spa’s modern pedicure area features beaded dividers for privacy.

Sheraton Ice Spa, Anchorage

On Thursday evenings, the upscale Sheraton Ice Spa is bustling with clients for the weekly "Martinis and Manicures" event. "It started a year ago as a promotional idea, but it’s now so successful that we’ve added pedicures too and, starting next month, the event will be from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. [instead of 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.]," says Lorraine Park, vice president of the spa division of Remington Hotels. The event, which is primarily by appointment, gives each client a specialty manicure and two martinis for $59.

All of Ice Spa’s rooms are named after glaciers, and glaciers were also the inspiration for the upscale spa’s sophisticatedly frosty color scheme of icy blues and crystal accents. The spa design (by Degan & Degan in Seattle) was a main reason why tour guide Davis insisted I make the visit. Located on the top floor of the Sheraton, I was impressed by the stunning overview of the region, including the Chugach Mountain Range.


Ice Spa’s Lorraine Park shows me around the beautifully designed spa.

The nail treatments also take advantage of Ice Spa’s subarctic locale, with enticing names like Signature Fire & Ice Pedicure, Ocean Hand Treatment, and Chai Spice Pedicure.

Park says the spa finds nail techs at the local beauty schools, but has also reimbursed its own staff members (such as receptionists and massage therapists) to earn their nail license. In return for the educational reimbursement, Ice Spa requires that the new nail tech must work at the spa for a year.

I was impressed to see so much commitment and enthusiasm among these nail techs and salons who, in many ways, are left to fend for themselves in an area without much access to education or to new products. But, based on my day on the road, I am confident they wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.