Big dreams brew in a small space: Clinton salon hopes to capitalize on traffic, convenience

Alicia Clancy tweezes customer Bridgit Howard's eyebrows during a recent visit to the one-chair salon in Clinton. The Freeland woman opened the business in a former espresso stand along the highway near the ferry terminal.

Alicia Clancy has a grand vision brewing in Clinton, and it only requires a small footprint.

The 33-year-old Freeland woman opened Butterfly Beauty and Photography in a former espresso stand in Clinton this past August. Anyone who has taken the ferry since then probably drove past it, noticing the sign and its rotation of messages, just down the hill from Simmons Garage and the Clinton Community Hall.

But blink and you may miss it. Clancy’s business is 200 square feet. The true salon space is about half that for her one-chair studio.

“The rent I’m paying here is the same I’d be paying for a chair anywhere else,” she said during a recent visit at the end of her work day.

“Why rent a space when what I really wanted was my own?”

In the hair salon business, stylists typically pay for space in a salon. They are responsible for building up clientele and some of the necessary tools.

A once-shuttered espresso stand was an opportunity for Clancy. The work space needed to be gutted; counters were removed and replaced with only one for the salon, and a sink was installed. That left room for a small refrigerator, a coffee pot, a couch, and some space for products, plus a bathroom and utility closet.

“I saw something in it,” Clancy said. “I knew there was potential.”

Indeed, the tiny espresso stand has seen a metamorphosis as Butterfly Beauty. Where once mochas, lattes and breves were brewed, now cuts, colors, and waxing are offered. Clancy does just about everything: haircuts, coloring, waxing, perms, makeup, straight razor shaves.

“I can do anything any other salon can,” she said.

She, her boyfriend and her daughter have lived on South Whidbey for about a year and a half. They moved to the area from north Snohomish County because her partner was from Whidbey, and it had the kind of school district and community atmosphere they wanted for themselves and their 7-year-old, Hailey, who eagerly sat through an interview around Valentine’s Day with heart-shaped candy bursting from cards and her pockets. 

Working for a couple of salons on the island prior to opening her own shop informed Clancy of people’s expectations for service and cost. When she saw an ad for the espresso stand, she knew that was where she’d make her jump into business ownership.

The Clinton-to-Mukilteo ferry route takes more than 2 millions visitors past her salon in a year. She, like so many businesses on Whidbey Island and especially Clinton, is hoping to capture even a small fraction of that traffic and turn it into occasional business.

It worked for one recent first-time client. Bridgit Howard of Clinton said she came in after seeing the business for months. What caught her attention?

“The sign on the highway, it drew me right in,” she said, adding that it was convenient because she used the ferry for work and lived nearby.

Clancy is a true beautician. She does hair and makeup, and similar to many stylists, is known for being convivial. It’s a part of the job she loves, getting to know clients over time and building a relationship. Through the course of styling someone’s hair for years, she said, she gets to know their families, relationships, jobs, struggles and triumphs.

“We call ourselves ‘hairapists,’ ” she said.

Being successful in a small-town location like Clinton means being amenable to her customers. She keeps regular hours, but opens early or stays late depending on the client’s needs, and makes house calls. Diversifying her business has helped, too. More than styling and makeup, she does photography and offers packages for wedding bridal parties.

“It was a very rough start,” she said of her business. “We’re just now getting busy.”

A volunteer bartender at the American Legion in Bayview and member of the club’s auxiliary and motorcycle rider groups, she said connecting with people there has helped funnel clients into her salon.

The small, 200-square-foot salon is a good start, she said. But Clancy has a vision for a full salon, where she rents out chairs to other budding stylists and beauticians. Even if she did one day outgrow the espresso stand-cum-salon, she said she would like to operate her flagship studio.

“The view is unbeatable,” she said as two ferries passed each other between Clinton and Mukilteo on a clear, sunny afternoon.