30 Years Behind the Chair
by Jen Malkin
Nestled on the corner of Arlington Avenue and Anacapa Street is a 50-year-old Santa Barbara institution; vintage toys dot the walls of the building’s exterior, and a large window highlights the menagerie of retro gifts and décor inside Nicky’s Hair Salon and Eclectic Gifts, now celebrating five decades of success as a hair design studio and gift store. Fusing community and nostalgia, its success is predicated on Nicky’s penchant for nurturing and celebrating memories.
The salon was purchased 50 years ago by Basileos Nicolas Gekis and his wife, Helen, as Marson’s Salon of Beauty. They immediately changed the name to Nicholas Salon of Beauty, thus launching one of the oldest family-run businesses in Santa Barbara. When the elder Gekises retired, their son, Nick Jr. — known as Nicky — carried the torch when he became proprietor, renaming it Nicky’s Hair Salon. Between Helen, Nicolas Sr., and Nicky Jr., there are 130 years of combined haircutting heritage in the Gekis family.
The storefront’s bay window has offered a unique perspective on the changes that have occurred in Santa Barbara — and indeed, American life — during the past five decades. Nicky has seen the winds of change blow through Santa Barbara, and has many stories to tell about its evolution from a small town to a sophisticated tourist destination.
Nicky also has stories to tell about the lives of the clients he has known and served for several generations. He has a genuine love for the “culture of beauty,” especially the social interaction that is inherent to it, and joked that he could write a book, Thirty Years Behind the Chair, that would celebrate the world of hairdressing and the conversation and rapport that are cultivated between stylist and client. The physical and emotional environment Nicky has created encourages people to open their hearts to the man behind the chair, which happens to be a genuine 1948 hair station.
In 1998, Nicky decided to add a retail gift shop to the salon that includes a wide variety of vintage and unusual offerings — from specialty cookbooks to unique greeting cards. The shopping experience evokes the splendor of sentimentality; the local “shop on the corner” satisfies that craving for old-fashioned conversation and community.
In a world where corporate America has more of a presence in our lives than ever, Nicky’s celebrates a unique and personal vision and is a testament to other locally owned businesses that have helped make Santa Barbara the premiere shopping destination that it is today.