On the Road: Nail Bar at Walgreens, Chicago

This is no ordinary Walgreens. Enter the two-story flagship at State and Randolph and smell fresh-baked cinnamon rolls, witness a sushi chef masterfully create a custom order, and, of course, get your nails done at its Nail Bar by Essie & OPI.

<p>As a modern-styled space with bubbly chandeliers, sleek furnishings, and rotating product displays, the Nail Bar&rsquo;s appearance is impressive, especially when you consider that it&rsquo;s inside a major drugstore chain.</p>

Serene Setting

I admit it. I had a fear, drawn from previous industry experiences, that a nail salon inside of a Walgreens might not be kosher. First, where would the retailer put it? Not next to the pharmacy counter, please! As it turns out, the Nail Bar is tucked away on the second floor, with the pharmacy not even in the sightline. What is nearby are beauty products galore. After arriving upstairs, I walked through the LOOK Boutique, which features nail, skin care, and hair care products, putting me into a beauty mindset. LOOK Boutique adviser Brittany Green greeted me and took me further back into the nail nook. It looked beautiful, clean, and professional.

Real Nail Techs

My second question:  Who are the nail techs? Let’s say they didn’t exactly see themselves working at Walgreens either. “Of course, you don’t think it’s real,” said Stacey Hernandez (left), remembering the call that told her the company was interested in her resume, which she’d posted on Careerbuilder. Stacey, like Katherine Walker (right) and other techs who work here, is licensed by the state’s cosmetology board. The techs told me Walgreens gave them one protocol — no cutting of live skin — then let them direct themselves. The techs together agreed on no-soak manicures and were in the process of writing out other protocols for consistent services.

Fingers, Not Feet

The salon is equipped with several sleek white manicure tables, while another piece of equipment is conspicuous in its absence: pedicure basins. Walgreens offers a variety of hand-focused services, but nothing for the feet. Stacey says much of her clientele from her previous location followed her here, and she simply refers them elsewhere for pedicures. Even with the limited menu, the salon is extremely busy, especially on weekdays with the working professional crowd. Though open for mere months, most of its slots are filled by appointments, not by walk-ins, which surprised me. Katherine summed it up, “You really have to see it.”

Fun Facts

> The idea of putting a nail bar inside a drugstore came from Walgreens’ purchase of competitor Duane Reade, which tested the concept first.
> As employees of Walgreens, nail techs get benefits — health care, retirement plans, sick days, etc.
> As the nail tech with the most experience in nail art, Katherine is teaching the others how to create designs.
> Weekends are generally the only time the nail techs get any downtime (during which they can work on the sales floor). The main clientele is at home in the suburbs, not to return to The Loop until Monday.

Menu Highlights

Manicure: $10
OPI GelColor: $30
Polish Change: $7
Nail Art (per nail): $3
French Manicure: $15

Product Highlights

Polish: Essie, OPI
Brush-on gel polish: OPI GelColor
Scrub: OPI
Lotion: OPI

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