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

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.


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