It’s a pretty big secret, but Stella and Shay Beauty Bar owner, Becca Gordon, didn’t want to move to Cleveland. At all. Now, she’s a testament to how Cleveland reels you in. Originally set to be a small nail studio where Becca could grow her own brand, Stella and Shay has transformed into a complete “Beauty Bar,” with two locations in Cleveland (Lakewood and Westlake) and a definite cult following. I would know, I’m one of them! So how did an Erie, Pennsylvania girl find herself owning two salons in Cleveland? Read on to find out.
Haley Mills: What were you doing before you opened Stella and Shay?
Becca Gordon: I was working in a salon, booth renting and doing nails. Nails and wedding hair actually, for three years prior to opening Stella and Shay.
HM: What lead you to open Stella and Shay?
BG: My husband and I got married and we started talking about possibly having a family someday and really, I was maxed out where I was. I wanted to make more money and have employees and grow my business. But with it just being me it was hard. I wanted to take it up a notch.
Originally, I was just going to open a small nail studio. The space that Raw Esthetics is in, in Lakewood (Stella and Shay’s neighbor), was the original space I was getting because the space that we are in was taken. When they backed out of the lease, the landlord offered it to me first. I was like, please don’t show it to anybody - let me come and see it, I’m pretty sure I want it. So then I was like, well maybe I should have some hair stations. So it can be a one-stop shop because that's what people like.
HM: What was the process like refurbishing the space in Lakewood and making it what you wanted it to be like?
BG: Oh, goodness. Well, that building is 100 years old and for 20 years prior there was nothing in it. So there was basically no running water, no electricity, asbestos everywhere, a four-foot hole in the ceiling, a couple other holes that were dripping… it was really pretty gross. There was a staircase to the basement that was directly under the back door so basically, when you walked in the back door it was just stairs. I mean, 100 years ago there were no codes. So we had to move the staircase, we had to build two bathrooms. The landlord did a lot of work because they had to get the building up to code or no one was going to rent it. To be honest, Lakewood was - I don’t want to say it was a breeze and we didn't have hurdles to get over - but Lakewood was pretty smooth sailing as far as the construction process went.
Westlake was a completely different story! Even though Lakewood was an older building it was almost easier then Westlake. Westlake we just had so many hurdles. There were some issues at Lakewood when we first opened, we had leaks everywhere. We couldn't stop the leaks. We’d get one stopped and two days later someone would say the bathroom ceiling is leaking or there's a leak over the front desk. Now it's all good - we don't have any leaks!
Westlake was - a nightmare I feel like is a little extreme, but I don't really know how else to describe it. Lakewood took 10 weeks start to finish from a construction standpoint. Westlake was 6 months. The entire Westlake process from me deciding I wanted the building, to signing the lease and then completing construction was a year.
HM: If you had to start over, would you do it again?
BG: Yes! I think if I would have opened Westlake first, with all the trouble we had, I probably wouldn’t have jumped so quickly to do this second one. The other thing I keep telling myself is that Westlake is over double the size of Lakewood so there’s a lot more in terms of flooring, sinks, plumbing. I describe it as kind of like having a baby, which I have not done. You’re very, very excited at first and then it can be stressful in the middle, and then when you’re giving birth you’re like I’m never doing this again and then the baby comes and you're like oh my god this is amazing. Towards the end, I was like two salons that's it, no more! I’ll be lucky if this place ever opens! Now that I’m here it's not that bad. I would do it again 100%, but it was a very crazy stressful time.
Here’s an example, we had a bunch of the girls here one-night unpacking boxes and I hung up the phone and they were like, “what now?” They just knew. I said, “our manicure tables are missing.” I just started laughing. They were so worried I was going to start crying but I was just like, I don’t even know how we got to this point. The project took so long that all of my furniture ended up going to a storage unit instead of coming to the salon. So, the furniture got delivered and there were no manicure tables. We called, and they said, “oh, they probably just missed them in the storage unit”. They called me back a couple of days later and said, “well, they got on the wrong truck and they are going to Florida. When they get to Florida we will contact the driver and the driver will have to bring them back and then they will be delivered to you”. So, of course, I asked what that time frame was and they said two weeks - which at that time wasn't a big deal, we were still finishing things up. On the day the driver should've been in Florida they called me and said they couldn’t locate the driver or the truck. The company can’t locate the driver or the truck, he had turned off the GPS on his truck.
Then I ordered massage tables for the spa and they didn't come in our order either. They had told me they were coming directly from the manufacturer. When I called they told me they were set to arrive October 30th. Come November 5th I called because I still didn't have them and they said - I can’t make this up if I tried - they were stuck in a typhoon. They are overseas, and they can't get here because they are in the middle of a typhoon in the ocean… like what?! At one point it just kind of became a joke, “what’s going to happen today”? Which of course is unfortunate but it was just every single thing. We had an 8-week hold up for a fire-code issue that no one could seem to figure out. So, the whole project was a different animal from Lakewood. But, now it’s open and it’s wonderful!
HM: How did you pick Lakewood as your first location?
BG: I wanted Westlake, Bay Village, or Lakewood. I probably called over a dozen spaces. Finally, I drove past Lakewood one day and they had just put up a for lease sign in the window. I called and I had a few spots to see. I was so excited to go that I was really early, so I stopped to get coffee and I texted him, I decided I don’t want to see the one further down on Detroit. It just wasn’t where I wanted to be. They weren’t able to show me the big space because it was taken. If you think my space was in bad condition, the small side was worse. The walls were cracking, the whole ceiling was bad.
HM: So the whole building had just been abandoned, right?
BG: Basically, on the bottom. But on the top, there are apartments and people were living there. No one was really taking care of the building. So, I got really lucky because Lakewood is hard to come by for good spots. Lakewood is such a walkable, young, hip, little area so I feel like spaces that become available don’t last long.
HM: How did you decide on Westlake as the second location?
BG: I knew that if I ever wanted to open a second location I wanted it to be further west. We actually picked out a spot in Avon that we thought was great. We made an offer on the space and they just said no. No counter offer, just no. There was something about it that I told myself, keep looking and if you don't find anything else you can always come back to this. The space wasn't even built yet. I had a lead on a different space in Westlake and that fell through. I had called about space in this plaza not realizing there was already a salon here. So, in the middle of my voicemail that I left, I was like “This is Rebecca Gordon, I saw your sign in the window, I was interested in the space, oh nevermind there's another salon here, I didn’t see that. If you know of any spaces call me!” Basically, the salon owner that was in our space now was considering selling. So I kind of technically bought an old salon and re-did all of it and knocked out the wall and took the space next door as well. Most people don’t know that - so that's also kind of why it took so long because I didn’t want to push them out until I could start construction. We actually still have four of their employees.
HM: What is the best thing about owning a business in Cleveland?
BG: I would say just the general support and connections that you make throughout the community. I have a solid team of supporters, if that makes sense. People that love coming here, that love posting about it, they love bringing their friends and family in. Now they do their hair and their nails here. Businesses in this plaza in Westlake came over to introduce themselves and wish us good luck. We’re actually getting a tenant in our plaza that found out Stella and Shay was coming in, and got excited about it because we have a very good clientele. It will be a great support system for both businesses. I love that there are so many businesses that I can support. When I need to call someone and ask about a certain situation I have a handful of people I can do that with.
HM: I feel like Cleveland is very collaborative. I like that about it.
BG: Very! I love that, too. Even if I can’t participate in certain things, it's cool to see what else is going on. The whole community of business owners is very strong in Cleveland. It’s really cool that you can find people who want to support you because you support them.
HM: What brought you to Cleveland?
BG: My husband is from here. He’s from Avon Lake, born and raised. We went to college together where I’m from in Pennsylvania and we always stayed close friends. I was living in Columbus and he was living in Cleveland - him moving to Columbus wasn’t really an option. This is kind of a secret but, I did not want to move to Cleveland. I was not happy about it. At all.
Three months into us living here, someone asked how are you liking Cleveland? I said, “I love it, and I never thought I would say that. I just love it!” I love that my family is only two hours away. My mom spends a lot of time here with us, which is really nice.
HM: What is your favorite place to take a visitor when they come to Cleveland?
BG: That’s very hard for me to narrow down. I love taking them to the West Side Market. I love going to Gordon Square for Brewnuts, Fount, and Sweet Moses - I think those places are really cool. Downtown has just evolved so much since I’ve lived here, there are so many good places to eat and cool things to do. It definitely depends on who’s in town - downtown is a good spot because there are endless things to do now. I’ve been here almost 7 years now and it's crazy to see the changes, but I love it. I love that there are so many different areas. You can’t really get bored here!
HM: What is your favorite Cleveland sports team?
BG: I actually don’t really know anything about sports. My whole family doesn’t watch sports so I didn't grow up with sports. Now that I’m in Cleveland, Cavs for sure! Baseball - I love going to the games but it's not enough action for me. There's just so much action at a Cavs game.
HM: Where’s your favorite place for dinner in Cleveland? I know that's really hard…
BG: That is hard, but Strip. We’ve never had a bad meal there and we’ve been there several times. That's our number one spot. I’m a ginormous pizza fan and I also recently discovered Mikey’s Pizza, and I’m IN LOVE with it. We get that a lot at the salon because they deliver to us. I mean, that is a very hard question. Strip is our special occasion favorite. I really love El Carnicero, too.
Studio Photo Credit: This Lovely Light