Laura Dembski has been the owner of Miss Laura's Beauty Culture on South Street for more than 20 years. This year she used her creativity to expand her shop in different ways, including teaming up with another local salon, selling plants, and more.
Dembski is also a great supporter of her neighbors, as several years ago she helped Ivy Insurance adopt her late father's cat, Sikuwar.
Q: How long has Miss Laura's Beauty Culture existed at 46 South Street?
Dembski: Double Deuce. I bought Cla-Mar Beauty Culture on April 1 1998 -- the shop has been in operation beginning in 1936 and has always been a women owned business! I am the third owner.
Q: How long were you closed due to the pandemic?
Dembski: We closed down on March 17th and slightly opened late May, but had a delay due to a plumbing problem. We got on our feet early June, starting by rebooking as many customers we could that had existing appointments or that were cancelled due to the pandemic. Then Ellen [Casey McLaughlin] called....
Q: What adjustments did you need to make do to the pandemic?
Dembski: Earlier in 2020 I had decided to expand my shop. The year before I lost two dear coworkers due to personal changes and while working solo I realized I could hold my own -- it was a tight balance but I gained the understanding that I kept the shop going on my own while keeping on my two support staff.I decided to move into the expansion towards a botanical gift store and retrained the front staff for retail.
I have always kept beautiful plants, I love paper goods and natural items so I went with it. I decided to take off one week in April and bought the materials to divide my space into two. The best of both worlds! Then COVID hit, I was closed and had the opportunity to start the renovation. I built and spackled and painted a wall with my daughters, installed my 1936 Vitrolite Barber Station for display -- no small feat! Having the wall up and separating the shop in half helped us have a safer private environment for the customer.
We were almost finished with the renovation when we were allowed to open up and then Ellen called me and told me her news -- as the Hidden Hair Salon was being asked to close due to [her landlord in Jamaica Plain] wanting to restrict her business due to COVID-19.
Q: Have customers come with a lot longer hair and dye jobs grown out than normal
Dembski: We should charge by the ounce! I actually really enjoy when folks cut their own hair, sometimes it's really good but sometimes, well you know, I enjoy the challenge. I tried to help out my color clients during COVID with tips and tricks for touching up at home...most did OK.
Q: Miss Laura's is hosting the owners of Hidden Hair Salon because they lost their space. How long are they going to be there?
Dembski: Ellen and I used to work together -- a long time ago at Fresh Hair and just before I bought Cla-Mar I rented space from her for four years at the Hidden Hair Salon.
We weren't sure how things were going to work out so we winged it at first. She worked a few days alone and I worked the days she didn't. Once she found out she couldn't work out of her shop anymore she decided to stay with me. Now we cross paths a bit more and I am enjoying having her and Janet's companionship. Ellen helped me get the finish work done in the front new shop and get things going in the hairshop in the back, which is wonderful. She had brought some great display pieces too! We'd love to get the word out where she and [hairstylist] Janet [Gil] landed since the Hidden Hair Salon closed so abruptly.
Q: You're doing some different things, including expanding the front of the shop for gifts cards, selling plants, and reaching out to a local vendor for consigning. Why are you doing these things in your salon? Do you think it's temporary? Or up in the air right now?
Dembski: I love my beauty parlor -- when I lost my co-workers I was overwhelmed with accommodating all the customers I could, I decided to look forward. I always dabbled in retail and thought having a dual shop would benefit me personally -- having been a hairdresser for 30-plus years I felt my body could use a break but I am also someone who has a hard time slowing down!
I always mourn my shop Honeyspot, which closed in 2008 which I ran with my block neighbor Hilken Mancini, who owns 40 South, the vintage clothing store, and wanted to combine my love of gardening with my love of ephemera. I tested the water by having a small but telling organic plant sale. Over the closure, I was starting my garden seedlings and decided to start way more than I needed in my tiny greenhouse. I set up outside this spring and summer and sold each veggie or flowers for a buck or two. I ended up selling out quicker and profiting more than I thought and so I reinvested the small profits into mother plants and plants for sale which I am currently selling and growing at the shop.
I have odd taste but also have a practical wallet which helps have a shop for those who enjoy this combination of live plants, beautiful cards, tin toys, vessels, unique consignors and artists all joined together under my wings. I have a local JP consignor called Second Sun Creatives who makes wonderful up-cycled jewelry with natural items and insects(!!) and an artist who is a hair client that over the pandemic started to "fix" holey sweaters with amazing embroidery, which I will be acquiring to sell soon. I am looking for more consignors and would like to donate a portion of those sales to a neighborhood charitable org in need. I hope this duality will allow me to adjust to the ever-changing world, offering service and retail, in person or remote.