Small business’ throughout the country have had to navigate a strange new normal since the Covid-19 pandemic began nine months ago. Miami-Dade has been especially hit hard with the highest infection and hospitalization rates in Florida.
In a welcome display of good news, is a story of continued multi-generational success for a local, female-owned small business.
Cuttin Loose Salon is celebrating 40 years in business.
Current owner Ashley Talley mentioned that during the COVID-19 two-month shutdown they were able to do a little remodeling, but how to manage under the re-opening rules required careful planning. “The big challenge was how to keep as many people working as I could. We became more creative with scheduling.” Rather than the usual 9:00-5:00, they are open 8:00-8:00 in order to accommodate clients and employees.
Cutting Loose’s story begins when as a young girl, Julie Nicotra admired her aunt in upstate New York who was stylish and a successful businesswoman with her own beauty salon. Nicotra did enjoy art, yet recognized the potential difficulty of making a living as an artist. Keeping in mind her inspirational aunt, she attended beauty school and quickly knew this was a career she could embrace. Then at only twenty-three, she felt confident enough to take charge of Cuttin’ Loose Salon which was on English Avenue.
Although it was a turnkey arrangement, what it didn’t come with was actual clientele.
She worked six days a week, spent the seventh day cleaning and organizing as she gained the reputation for quality and fostered a sense of community to all who entered.
As happens, the building was to be sold and she proudly moved the shop to a Krome Avenue location. No one could have imagined that exciting month of June 1992 would be followed by devastating Hurricane Andrew in August.
“The entire ceiling fell in,” Nicotra recalled. There was one stroke of good luck. “The landlords, Rick and Jane Mullins, had a main electric pole behind the building.” They helped in other ways, too. “Jane was in with me bleaching the ceiling to get rid of the mold. I started taking clients back in two weeks. Everyone wanted some semblance of normalcy.” With their house and her brother’s house wrecked by the storm, they lived in Key Largo for about six months until repairs could be completed.
Many residents chose to leave Homestead, but among those who remained, Cuttin’ Loose was more than a salon. There was the feeling of being in a familiar place greeted by smiles, knowing the hair, nail, or whatever treatment was scheduled would be done to high standards.
Nicotra’s guiding principles are simple. “Be honest and always do your best whether anyone is watching or not. Do what is right, not what it easy. What kept me in business was people knew they could trust me when I told them something.”
After thirty-eight years, Nicotra reached the point of still loving what she did, but was ready to begin a new phase. There was no question as to who she felt was the right person to turn to first.
Ashley Talley, born and raised in one of the farming families, had always been impressive. There was a friendship between Nicotra’s father and Talley’s grandfather, so when Talley, who started a career as a paralegal, wanted a change, hiring her to work the front desk of the salon was an easy choice. Talley soon realized what she wanted.
“I saw how people would leave happy, transformed with a new look. There was such a sense of community.” She enrolled in Paul Mitchell, being one of the few in the school’s history to make the Dean’s List. With her specialties of cutting, texturing, and coloring hair, she was working toward the 1,200 hour mark of when she could take her state board to be fully licensed.
She and her husband were thrilled to learn she was pregnant, and she challenged the board with 1,000 hours experience to allow her to achieve this goal before the birth. No one who knew her was really surprised at her success and she later went to work at another local salon.
The surprise came at Nicotra’s approach for Talley to go from independent contractor to business owner, taking over from a woman who had mentored her. “I felt honored.” In follow-on discussions Talley acknowledged she was keeping the name because that was what she was buying even though she did plan a new logo.
For longtime employee Marisol Diaz (Mary), the transition has been smooth. She began with Nicotra in 1997, left for a while and has returned. “This has always been a learning experience and it’s like home. Our clients are more like family. You can see the smiles under the masks.”
Retired schoolteacher Claire Strandhagen agrees. A resident of Redland for forty years, she’s patronized Cuttin’ Loose for almost as long. “It’s always been a friendly place. Even when there are changes, it’s the same in here.”
Maintaining the balance of a new owner without losing the essence of the business has been important. “Yes, having your former boss now working at the salon is different, but she’s been my mentor and I’m still learning from her,” Talley said.
Nicotra is comfortable with continuing to share her experience. “Yes, I come in a few days. I still love what I do. You don’t go from being a salon owner for thirty-eight years and just walk away.”
What they weren’t expecting to share was an ironic twist. They were in the shop one day when a woman ran her car into the building. No, nothing like that had ever happened before.
Talley’s advice to anyone looking to their future? “Find a profession you love and be prepared to work hard and a lot.”
For her, it is definitely the salon on Krome Avenue. “This place is the community; the sense you get of it still being a small town even though the population is larger.”