Salon Gossip: Taking Care of Business, in a Good Way
Bloomfield business owner, single mom and charity organizer Donna Vaicels makes it work
Chances are, walking into the bright, airy space of Salon Gossip, the first thing you’ll hear is laughter.
Owner Donna Vaicels keeps the place lively with cheerful banter as she works, like on a recent day when Patch came to visit the Broad Street salon.
“You graduated in 2008?” she teases assistant Stephanie Nieves, expertly snipping and shaping a customer’s hair. “I have stuff in my refrigerator older than you!”
Vaicels, business owner, single mom and charity organizer, is a whirlwind of energy - and she needs to be. For the past ten years she has divided her time between earning money, caring for her family and reaching out to the needy: quite literally, taking care of business.
“I wanted to be an artist but I had absolutely no money,” she confided, pausing to chat on a busy Friday afternoon. “I stunk at waitressing. I thought, ‘there goes my dream of waitressing my way through college’!”
Instead, Vaicels, a 1990 Bloomfield High School graduate, attended the Concorde School of Hair Design on Ward Street, where the 1-year, 1200-hour course gave her an opportunity to learn a vocation and enter the job force quickly. She credits her mentor, Concorde owner Tom Ferrara, with helping her find a career path. “I got really into it,” she remembers. “I realized, this is art! Coloring hair is painting.”
Before long, she was assisting in different salons in New Jersey, all the while taking care of her Alzheimer's-stricken grandmother. During those years she was also going through a divorce and caring for two babies. When her grandmother died, she realized she had to take her life in a new direction.
“I was having a hard time finding childcare,” she remembers. “I was going to lose my job. I thought owning my own business would make it easier to control my hours and schedule.”
Vaicels found a reasonably priced commercial property on Sunset Avenue in Bloomfield that had previously been a salon ("it already had sinks and everything”) so Viacels decided to take the plunge.
“I maxed out my credit card,” she said, and with that investment ($10,000) she opened her own shop, Salon Gossip. But starting a new business on a shoestring budget is tough, as Vaicels readily admits.
“It was just me. I had no employees. I answered phones and did everything. It was trial and error,” she said. Still, because she was her own boss, she was able to be there if her children needed her. She worked hard and was able to pay back her initial financial investment in a year.
Over the next ten years, Salon Gossip generated a steady following, one that was loyal enough to follow her when she decided to expand this past year.
“I was going to move the salon to Nutley but I think there’s a troll under that Watchung Avenue Bridge,” she laughs. Once again, with a self-imposed budget of $10,000, she was able to put the wheels in motion to change her life for the better.
Over a long three-day weekend, Vaicels and some close friends transformed an empty bakery into a cozy and chic new home for the beauty parlor. Today, the welcoming space includes two bright rooms overlooking Broad Street (one for haircuts and coloring, the other a waiting area/boutique) and workrooms that offer salon services like hair washing, eyebrow waxing and basic manicures.
Vaicels is proud of the final result. “We bought stuff from IKEA and put it together. When you’ve done it all yourself you have a different feeling about your business,” she noted.
In fact, her efforts were publicly recognized last month, when she won a Community Development Recognition award, presented by the Suburban Essex Chamber of Commerce. She is characteristically modest about the award, saying she’s not exactly sure why she won.
“In this economy there are so many resources. If two friends would just get together with a good business idea, they could open something up and make it work,” she says.
For Viacles, operating a profitable business is a natural outcome of dedication and hard work. And there’s still a lot more she intends to accomplish.
“I want to expand some more. Probably in January, I can start having private appointments for people who need it,” she says. “Kids with autism or people who have cancer and need special appointments. My dream is to create a safe haven here. That’s my dream.”
Vaicels is active in her church, Grace Episcopalian in Nutley, where she volunteers with the youth group. She has also donated time and money to various charities through the years, among them Gail’s Angels for Autism, GirlPower2Cure (for Rett’s Syndrome research) and Covenant House in Newark. She has hosted fundraisers at the salon for all of them.
“My friend Jim started Gail’s Angels for Autism, to help women with breast cancer who have special needs children,” she said, describing him as one of the people she most admires. As for her other work, “I had a client who had twins, one autistic and one not, I wanted to raise money for her. I decided to do something for autism.” Her involvement with Rett's Syndrome began with a client whose granddaughter was afflcited with the disease.
Also: “I run the youth group at my church, we did homeless night out. We made structures to live in out of cardboard boxes and slept in them overnight.” After this experience, Vaicels decided to hold a fundraiser for Covenant House, a shelter for homeless youth in Newark.
“For Christmas last year we did ‘a re-gift your gift to make the holidays happier for someone’. It was nice.”
In June Vaicels volunteered at the St. Baldrick’s fundraiser for childhood cancer. “I shaved so many people’s heads!” she smiles. “This one guy, we raised a thousand dollars for his haircut. It was wild!”
Vaicels doesn’t see a separation between her charitable activities and her work and family. For her, it’s all connected.
“I involve my kids in the charitable work I do,” she says. “My daughter Carly photographed the St. Baldrick’s thing. [My children] are also involved in the Covenant House extension for the youth group.”
When asked how she does it, Vaicels just grins. “I don’t know,” she says. “I just do it. All my energy goes into my family and my business. I know it sounds corny but it’s like a garden and I’m a farmer. It’s like a community garden. We all reap the benefits. But I happen to be the one who owns the land.”
Salon Gossip Hair Salon and Boutique is located at 1036 Broad Street, Bloomfield. To call for an appointment: 973-429-8955 Walk-in customers welcome!