I always scope out nail salons when I visit new towns, and that’s what I found myself doing as I drove down Main Street in Gloucester, Va., population 40,000, where buildings dating from the late 1600s now house specialty shops for discriminating shoppers. Imagine my surprise when I learned this little historic area had its own natural nail salon — one that had been open for 10 years! Co-owners Mary Keith Cramer and Jean Crowder share the space and offer clients natural nail services and natural yarns and fibers.

Naturals takes appointments, but accepts walk-ins as well, so my friend Rachel and I took a seat at the bar. We were greeted by Kelsey Ridelle, who I learned would do manicures on both Rachel and me, while “floating” to the client who was already at the bar. Kelsey worked between us efficiently and professionally, and I never felt as if I were waiting for her to get back to me. In the middle of my manicure, a second tech came behind the bar, having just completed a pedicure on a client. She jumped right into the rhythm of our service and helped Kelsey juggle the three clients. I learned later how they orchestrated this seamless transition: a set of laminated “service-step” cards is placed in a business-card holder in front of each client. As the tech completes a step, she moves the card to the back of the stack. Any tech behind the bar can see the next step to perform simply by looking at the “service-step” cards.

I was impressed by the lengths the techs went to to educate the clients. At each step, the tech told me what she was doing, why she was doing it, and how the product worked to nourish and strengthen my nails and skin. I was told I could purchase a kit with all the essential products to maintain my nails between appointments, which they recommend I schedule every two weeks. If I bought the kit for $48, my $20 manicure would be free. I was grateful the techs were well educated on the products, and that the products were earth-friendly and natural: “a blend of science and nature,” says Mary. (Without the “science,” the product’s shelf life is drastically reduced.)

The interaction between the techs and the clients created a camaraderie that surprised me. I realized why the nail “bar” may be the next generation of nail salons: It allows you to escape by yourself or with a friend while you get your nails manicured — without having to get so personal with the nail tech. As much as I enjoy the techs, I really prefer to chit-chat with my friend. The nail bar at Naturals allows me both. I knew I would be a regular at Naturals if I lived nearby.

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