Salon Journeys

  • By:  Brandy Centolanza

Remember when salons were called beauty parlors? We’ve come a long way, baby!

Remember when hair salons used to be called beauty parlors? In those pink-hued domains, ladies of all ages would gather on a weekly basis to gossip or chitchat about their lives and loves while getting all dolled up. Often women formed special bonds, not only making friends but also building a strong support network—a la the 1989 movie Steel Magnolias. Women could be themselves at the local beauty parlor, and men were strictly off limits.

While times have changed and women may not go to hair salons as often as they used to, ladies—and gents—still enjoy pampering themselves, whether it’s with a new hair style or color, a manicure, or a massage. Three local women followed different career paths en route to running their salons, but they all share a commitment to providing quality services that help women feel good about themselves.

“Customers Are Like Family”

3 Bowls of Cover Opens 2nd Location


It was thanks to friends in college that Dawna D’Urso first discovered an affinity for hair styling. Dawna, who had plans to be a special education teacher, did her friends’ hair in her kitchen between classes and studying.

“I thought it was fun, and they paid me in beer,” Dawna recalled with a laugh. “I later caught myself driving around and saw a hair school, so I went in. I thought that I could do hair and make more money than waiting tables or bartending so I could get through college quicker. Once I started cosmetology school, though, I realized that this was it for me. I loved it.”

After attending a hair design school in Newport News, Dawna started working with some friends in a salon before they decided to venture out and open their own salon together. Sixteen years later, Dawna, a certified trichologist, is co-owner of 3 Bowls of Color in Newport News. She and her business partners, Rebekkah Chriscoe, Shannon Towler, and Caitlin Hanselman, recently opened a second location in Hampton. Services include hair styling and coloring, hair extensions, hair restoration, waxing, microblading, spray tanning, make up, and nail services.

“I believe salons are popular among both men and women because we’ve evolved to so much more in our industry,” Dawna said. “We continually educate ourselves in the most popular trends so that great color and cut moves to the next level. The customer service and great conversation become an added bonus to the relationship. Our customers are like family to us.”

Dawna, 51, who resides in Hampton, enjoys keeping up with the latest trends in order to please her patrons.

“Trends are constantly on the move,” she said. “…[It] could be a fun fashion multicolor look or a seamless balayage blonde. A perfectly cut bob—slightly angled or layered or not—is always trending.”

At 3 Bowls of Color, the set-up is similar to beauty parlors of yore where bonds form between stylists and clients, young and old alike. Those friendships are the best part of being in the business for Dawna.

“It is incredibly rewarding to make someone feel wonderful about themselves with a simple cut or a trend-setting fashion color that makes people’s heads turn,” Dawna said. “As much as I love working behind my chair doing hair, it’s the relationships with both my clientele and my staff that are why I love to come to work every day. We talk, we laugh, we get angry, and we cry. We are there for each other always. My life becomes a little richer with every new relationship created.”

For Refugee from Turkey, Dreams Do Come True

Owner of Simply Elegant Hair Salon Also an Author


For Alis Cerrahyan, 62, of Virginia Beach, a job in a hair salon meant survival when she came to the U.S. as a refugee from Istanbul, Turkey, in 1980. Married with a toddler daughter at that time, Alis spoke little English but found work with a friend who owned a beauty shop.

“I started working there as a shampoo girl,” Alis said. “I was paid 25 cents per shampoo. I had my little one with me for a while until I knew how much I could make and what kind of daycare I could afford. My days consisted of shampooing and tidying the place until the shop was sold.”

The new owner offered Alis an apprenticeship, so she stayed on. “My new boss must have recognized a talent,” she said. “I didn’t have enough confidence because my English wasn’t all that great. But by the grace of God, it all worked out, and I became a licensed hairdresser.”

Alis has been in the hair styling business for almost 40 years. She worked her way up in the industry and now owns her own salon, Alis’ Simply Elegant Hair Salon in Virginia Beach. The business specializes in hair styling, coloring, hair texturing, and hair extensions.

“After working at a couple of different shops, I ended up opening my own salon in April of 1990,” Alis said. “I have had the privilege of working with some of the greatest stylists in this area. I still love and enjoy being behind the chair. Interacting with my guests and meeting their needs feels fantastic.”

Alis has witnessed many changes in the business through the years. “Visiting a beauty salon now is an entirely different experience than it used to be,” Alis said.        

“Before, women went weekly or biweekly to have their hair washed and styled by a professional,” she continued. “Today’s styles are rather carefree and mostly individualized, depending on the hair type and its texture.”

Fridays and Saturdays used to be their busiest days, Alis said. “Today, we’re busy every day of the week because of the diversity of hair colors. It’s a whole lot more than root touch up and grey coverage. And we don’t give as many perms as we used to.”

Despite the changes, Alis continues to serve others at her salon and says that she’s living proof that dreams can come true. She’s also the published author of three books, including a memoir titled Dance Like Nobody’s Watching. Currently Alis is working on a fourth book. She credits her faith for leading her toward success as a hairdresser after fleeing Turkey all those decades ago.

“My message to others is this: Don’t give up,” Alis said. “You may not know your potential, but the One who created you does. Trust yourself and trust God.”

CBD a New Trend in Salons and Spas

Try the Himalayan Salt Stone Massage at Natural Elements


Suzanne Garcia, 43, of Chesapeake also believes in dreams coming true. In 2004, she stumbled upon a career in the spa industry while going for regular massages herself.

“I had just moved to the area after leaving a career in technology in Northern Virginia and was looking for a spa,” she said. “Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a location that was anything like what I had been used to. Then I was lucky enough to be referred to an amazing massage therapist.”

Suzanne became fast friends with her massage therapist, Audrey Brown, and joined Audrey’s existing business, which has evolved into what is currently the Natural Elements Spa & Salon in Chesapeake.

“Our goal has always been to create a business that promotes health and wellness above all else,” Suzanne said.

Natural Elements Spa & Salon offers beauty services including facials, waxing, massage including Himalayan salt stone massage, body treatments such as hydrotherapy scrubs and wraps, nail services, and haircuts and styling. Since March 2018, Suzanne has also owned and operated SeaHill Spa at the Historic Cavalier Hotel and Beach Club in Virginia Beach.

“I am always grateful and amazed to see the health and wellness progress of our guests,” said Suzanne, who believes in a holistic approach to well being. “They may arrive with tight shoulders and stressed out only to leave relaxed and feeling lighter in a way. Our industry’s main focus is to allow peace of mind and a period of time that you can release all your worries and those nagging to-do lists for an hour or so. We all need personal decompression time.”

Like Dawna and Alis, Suzanne has enjoyed watching the spa and salon industry grow and improve over time.

“The most recent thing taking the spa industry by storm is the full spectrum hemp oil—CBD oil,” she said. Multiple facets of the hemp plant are used to create an experience that can help with pain relief, swelling, and skin irritations, explained Suzanne.         

“Fun color hair has been a huge trend in the salon industry for the past few years,” she noted. “Vivid hair colors keep getting brighter and bolder. They seem to be here to stay.”

Men and women of all ages like to frequent day spas, another trend Suzanne hopes doesn’t end any time soon.

“People still wish to gather and chat,” she said. “However, at a spa it is in a more intimate setting with your service provider and maybe a girlfriend. We also have a lot of couples that come in for side-by-side massage.”

Whether you visit a salon once a week or once a month by yourself or with a group of your best gal pals, the key is to allow yourself that time for rejuvenation, Suz believes.

“Self-care is important, whatever that looks like for you,” she said. “Whether it is a day at the spa getting a massage or a mani-pedi or getting a facial or your hair done, or going to a yoga studio, listening to your favorite music, or just having a few quiet minutes at home drinking water.

“People spend so much of their time giving to others and we often forget to take time to replenish ourselves,” she noted. “If we set aside time every week to focus on recharging ourselves, it really is amazing to see how that gives us renewed energy to pour into others.”

Brandy Centolanza is a freelance writer who lives in Williamsburg.

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