Quick Look
Salon Name: The Nail Sanctuary
Location: Portland, Ore.
Owner: Cindi Rice
Square Footage: 650
Opened: October 2004
Number of Nail Techs/Total Staff: 1/1
Specialties: One-on-one service
Website: www.thenailsanctuary.net


Cindi Rice believes in her sanctuary. What that means for her clients is a calm, relaxing place for nail services and facials, and absolutely no one else around to interrupt.

Rice owns The Nail Sanctuary, a Portland, Ore.-based salon that she runs — all by herself. The 650-sq.-ft. salon, nestled between intersecting streets of antique stores in the Sellwood part of the city, has the silence and serenity that comes only with enforced seclusion.

Rice has 31 years of experience in the nail industry and has worked in numerous spas and salons throughout Portland. “Over the years, I saw what doesn’t work from the client’s perspective,” she says. She had clients come in for expensive services that were spoiled by ringing cell phones, loud conversations, and annoyed receptionists detracting from their temporary getaway.

“The point of being at a salon is you want to escape, and you can’t always do that with extra-curricular noise,” says Rice.


A Zen-like Solitude Upon entering, visitors encounter a resting room with black leather recliners, a trickling fountain, and soothing music. Also in the room are an electric foot massager, books and magazines to read, and snacks and drinks. There is no receptionist. While Rice is with another client, a sign tells visitors to get comfortable and that she will be ready soon. “A lot of people come in early deliberately and climb in those recliners — it’s a very peaceful place,” she says. “I’ve never once had anybody ever disturb me.”  

Once the client enters through the Shoji doors that separate the resting room and the treatment area, she’ll enter a “cocoon-like atmosphere” lit with flickering candles, a custom-made pedicure station and matching manicure table, and a back alcove with a facial bed designed to support the back. In the treatment area, clients can choose to recline and listen to an iPillow, sit quietly and sip tea, or chat.

The Nail Sanctuary offers three types of services: manis, pedis, and facials. Rice says the favorites are the Relax and Renew manicure, a $30, 60-minute treatment that focuses on fingernail customizing, exfoliating hand and arm massage, paraffin dip, and aromatic heated mitts. The preferred pedicure is the Stone Serenity, consisting of a Jacuzzi soak, seaweed mud mask, heated and scented booties, massage with heated lava stones and chilled marine stones, and polish. The pedicure is a 75-minute treatment and costs $50.

Rice keeps her services “thoughtfully priced,” preferring to do so despite an appointment book that’s packed solid. She won’t consider a price raise because of the recession and says once a gratuity is added, she always makes more than the actual service price.

Relationship-Based Experience

Rice keeps her books full with the clients she has acquired over the years. Her regulars include elderly people, young mothers, and a good amount of men, who mostly come in for the pedicures. “I have one man whose nails I have done every other Thursday for 25 years,” she says.

The service is only half the reason her clients keep returning — the other half is because of the relationships they’ve built. “Clients tell you all sorts of personal things that they trust you not to tell anyone else. You develop great rapport with them, and their manicure is secondary to what they want to talk about that day,” Rice says.

In turn, she places a considerable amount of trust in her clients. When she’s in the treatment room, she uses a camera to keep an eye on the resting area to let her know who has arrived. She has arranged a retail-pickup scheme that has worked efficiently. Clients call ahead with their orders of the Dermalogica products she uses in her services, and she leaves it for them with a bag marked with the buyer’s name. The buyer picks up the products and drops a check into the lock box.

Success Against the Odds

Although her salon is booked months and sometimes even a year ahead, Rice won’t consider hiring someone else on. “It would take away from that sense of solitary relaxation if there were other people in here,” she explains.

While she has undoubtedly turned the salon into a one-woman success story, Rice has jumped her own set of hurdles with the business. Her first challenge was to get the salon built in just two weeks — the result of a previous tenant dawdling on the way out. Her husband, Bob Burkholder, gutted and rebuilt everything. “He got two hours of sleep a night for 14 days and lost 30 pounds but by golly, we made the opening date,” she says.

Initially her friends and family didn’t understand how she would run the salon without a receptionist or any other help, and Rice will admit it took some practice. “It took about a year for me to figure out how to run the place by myself,” she says.

A couple of years ago, when her working hours spanned 14-hours, five days a week, she was just about to sell the salon and retire, even going so far as to hire a business broker and letting interested clients see the place. In the end, she realized she wasn’t ready to sell, and instead reduced her business hours to three days a week for about 10 hours a day — a change that has helped immensely.

That’s not to say Rice has ruled out selling the salon altogether — it’s still an option for the near future. After 31 years providing a sanctuary for her clients, it’s about time for Rice’s own serene retreat.  


A Buddha statue sits at the landing on top of the stairs.

Rice advertised on Citysearch when she first opened, and the salon won the 2007 and 2008 awards for Best Manicure, Pedicure, and Facial. Shoji doors separate the resting and treatment areas.

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