by Jonathan Weaver
Denise Freehling’s hobby has become her profession, and a profession for her daughter and mother, too.
Freehling, daughter Mandie Waltenbaugh and mother Betty Martin recently celebrated the 20th year anniversary of ‘Polished by Hands and Tans’ salon along Butler Road in West Kittanning.
“When I was in cosmetology school (at Kittanning Beauty School in 1992), there was a bank here. When I decided to open a nail salon, the bank had closed and I saw the spot,” Freehling said. “We were the first nail salon in the area.”
She remembered traveling to Natrona Heights before the salon opened.
“20 years ago, nails aren’t what they were today. There might have been a few beauty salons that just did a little bit of nails, but hardly any,” Freehling added. “There were no nail salons at that time.”
Martin – who works as a receptionist at the salon – agreed and noted reactions from December 15th’s open house.
“Everyone said ‘A nail salon in Kittanning? It’ll never work.’ They just thought the area wasn’t big enough, I guess,” Martin said.
Not only has it worked, but the salon is now expanding its services to include permanent make-up (cosmetic tattooing), Shellac manicures – a natural gel-polished nail treatment – and sunless tanning.
Freehling attended training sessions in New Jersey and Florida to learn the cosmetic tattooing to apply toward eyebrows, eyeliner and lips.
“We’ve had a contractor come from Pittsburgh come for close to 15 years several times a year, and she’s too busy – she no longer comes to Kittanning – so I decided to learn it and we’re servicing her clients she built up over that time,” Freehling said.
Freehling has also offered the service to other medical spas.
The salon also welcomed local aesthetician Molly Otell to their staff to offer customized skin care.
“We felt very fortunate she’s been able to come. Since she lives in West Kittanning, I’ve been trying to get her here for 20 years,” Freehling said. “I tell her she’s a celebrity.”
“She’s really going to broaden our service menu,” Waltenbaugh added.
Waltenbaugh said why the name change fits with the new services offered.
“We’re trying to portray more of a spa atmosphere with the skin care. It’s been a long time coming, but with our 20 year anniversary, it just seemed like the right time.”
Some customers have remained throughout the salon’s 20 year history – sometimes utilizing the new services offered – which the women are thankful for.
Waltenbaugh, a nail technician, has been a long-time fixture at the salon.
“I used to get off the school bus here, and when I graduated from high school in `04, I started college (at Indiana University of Pennsylvania) and this was my job in-between classes. But, as I took more-and-more classes, I realized that this is a pretty good job because you don’t have a lot of stress, you can express your artistic side and you always have someone nice to talk to. So this is where I stayed,” Waltenbaugh said.
All three women live within three blocks of the salon, which adds to the family chemistry.
“I think we all have different skills and we work well together because of that,” “Sometimes, working with three generations of women in the same family can be kind of hard since we’re so similar, but yet our differences make it work, too,” Waltenbaugh said.
The salon also works around the schedules of other college students, including Nail Technician Megan Baker of Slatelick, who attended Slippery Rock University for a teaching degree while working as a nail technician.
“I think we’ve always depending on each other – the three of us,” Waltenbaugh said. “But now, we’re pretty happy with our (staff).”
Baker and fellow Nail Technicians Stephanie Croyle of Kittanning and Megan Baker of Slatelick agreed the team concept has worked.
“We always help each other out,” Croyle and Baker said.
Freehling said the salon sells ‘several hundred’ gift certificates in December, and will be open on Christmas Eve.
“The holiday’s a very busy time for us,” Mandie said. “With holiday events and parties going on, everyone wants to look extra nice. It’s a treat this time of year.”
The salon employs six technicians, four receptionists, a massage therapist and Otell.
Through the holiday season, the salon will be closed Christmas Day, Wednesday, Dec. 26 and New Years Day, but remain open the rest of the two weeks during normal business hours.