Hippies, Hibernation, and Hellish Weather — Oh My!

Location breeds a handful of challenges and rewards for Island Girl Nails in Clinton, Wash.

Meet Island Girl Nails of Clinton, Wash., a rare species of nail salon. Every winter, the shop falls into something akin to a state of hibernation as 75% of its client base, retired women whom the nail techs have classified as “snow birds,” packs up and migrates south to Los Angeles or Arizona for warmer climate.

Owner Vicki Thompson and her cohorts have thus learned to rely on reserves (the monetary kind) stored up during the summer when tourists and the local retired community are in town for three months of sunshine. Staff members work their hearts out, sometimes for 12 hours a day.

At the other extreme, in winter, nail techs work with as few as one or two clients per day. Exacerbating the situation are frequent snow and wind storms, during which power outages have closed the salon for weeks at a time.

PEACE, LOVE, AND GRANOLA Located on Whidbey Island — an island near Seattle that few outside Washington state would know — the salon faces some unique challenges beyond the weather, one of which is, believe it or not, hippies.

“We’re in a very interesting neighborhood,” Thompson says. “It’s a self-employed, artist, hippie culture. They’re Birkenstock-wearing, granola girls who have lived here forever. And I don’t mean this in a bad way at all, but they’re not girly girls — they just aren’t interested in salon services.”

Though the nail techs at Island Girl have yet to overcome the challenge of attracting Clinton’s artistically inclined inhabitants, they have, however, been able to tap into a recent influx of retirees at the south end of the island, which includes the aforementioned “snow birds.” These are women in their 60s and 70s, many of whom have flocked from California and are accustomed to receiving frequent nail services.

The only challenge with the “snow birds” is inspiring an adventurous, creative spirit. Neutrals, reds, browns, and mauves dominate tastes like they dominate the landscape.

“We don’t see women who want trendy colors like black polish,” Thompson said. “We get the new OPI collection with all these fantastic colors and they pick out a mauve that’s been around forever.”

The salon’s simple, small town, natural environs are not only reflected in the nail colors clients prefer, but also in the salon’s interior.

Inside the humble 710-square-foot space, wood floors are light-colored, cabinets are a light fir, and walls are textured green, not a far stretch from the salon’s arboreal surroundings. The business complex the salon resides in resembles a ski lodge with log columns, walls embedded with stone, and forest green borders on the roof and doors. Location, it turns out, has been the predominant factor affecting the salon — creating its biggest challenges, coloring its interior and services, and even inspiring its genesis.

IN THE BEGINNING… The story of how Island Girl Nails came to be is quite unconventional when it comes to salon stories. It came to be not out of a passion for nails, nor a desire to own a business, but from location.

Many of Thompson’s fondest childhood memories came from summers and weekends spent on Whidbey Island visiting her father in the ’80s. A native of Seattle, Thompson relished riding horses and going to the beach, and even simpler pleasures like the rural calm and smell of the island. She knew it would be an ideal place to raise a child.

After marrying and having a daughter, Thompson moved to the island. For the next four years, she commuted off the island to get to work as a buyer for a manufacturing company in a Seattle suburb, but then was laid off one day and suddenly needed a job.

Around the same time, a manicurist Thompson visited on the island said she was giving up her business to go to nursing school, and she suggested Thompson open a salon.

“When she brought it up to me, I thought she was absolutely insane,” Thompson said. “I kind of laughed at her but the thought lingered in my head for a few weeks.” Thompson eventually succumbed to the idea, seizing on the convenience of having a job on the island. She also liked the idea of caring for others, providing a quality service, and self-employment, and agreed with the woman that there was a definite need for another manicuring business.

The salon opened in January 2005, and three-and-a-half years later, Thompson says despite all the hardships she’s faced with inhospitable winter weather conditions, migrating “snow birds,” manicure-hating hippie artists, and the otherwise normal challenges every business owner faces, she loves what she does.

“It’s easier to work for somebody else, but it’s not as satisfying,” she says. “I’m able to spend time with people. And I’m providing a good service to my community.” And of course, there’s the island itself.

“We love it,” she says. “Almost every day we comment on how much we love it here. The peacefulness, the quiet. When we go outside and take the dogs out for a walk and look at the mountains and the trees and smell the fresh air, we’re grateful.”


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