YORK-Jeri Gunst threw caution into the wind after moving from Michigan to Virginia in 1975. She opened her own hair salon in September 1976 without the cushion of a client base. Gunst previously owned a salon in Michigan and had the confidence that she could do whatever it took to run a successful business on the Peninsula even though she was new to the area.
Gunst’s first Hairphenalia salon was located on Warwick Boulevard in the Denbigh section of Newport News. The company slogan at the time was “the best little hair house in town.” Her daughter, Debbie Janowski, received her cosmetology certification and started working with her mother in the family business. Gunst acquired numerous new clients, a business partner, and then decided to move a few doors down from the original location because it offered more space for the expanding salon.
In 1986, the partners decided to open a second salon in the Grafton section of York County named Hairphenalia 17. With one stylist transitioning to the new location, they hired new staff with little clientele, but accrued a strong client base within a few years. After 10 years in business together, Gunst bought her partner out and decided to close the Newport News location in fall 1993.
Gunst passed away July 27, 2017, and left her legacy in the care of her daughter. Janowski said the business continues to flourish and attributes the salon’s success to the dedication of its employees.
“Ten out of our 11 employees have been with the salon over a decade,” said Janowski. “A few of our stylists, including Terri and Diane, started off with us in the first shop in Newport News. We also have stylists who have been with us since the beginning of our time in Yorktown, like C.J., who’s been with us from the start.”
C.J. Adkins attributes the longevity of employees’ careers with the salon to management style and an atmosphere that promotes teamwork and camaraderie.
“I’ve been there for 31 years, and it’s because we’ve grown into more of a family than people who just work together,” said Adkins. “Jeri was a wonderful leader, and we all learned our work ethics from her. When we all came aboard many years ago, we needed to work, not just wanted, but needed. Jeri taught us everything we needed to succeed; she was just incredible.”
Adkins turned 65 this year and flirted with the idea of full retirement after a fulfilling career. “I’m currently semi-retired and work two days a week,” said Adkins. “Right now, I’ve got the best of both worlds because I can spend time doing the things I love outside of work, but still get to see my clients and the girls at the shop.”
Like many businesses, Janowski said the salon closed for a few months during the pandemic, but business returned to a new normal after mandates were lifted. “We were all very fortunate because our girls came back to work the day they were allowed to,” said Janowski. “While a lot of people chose to stay home, they didn’t. They came right back to work.”
Hairphenalia caters to men, women, and children of all ages. Services offered include styling, coloring, highlighting, Brazilian blowouts, keratin hair straightening, perms, waxing, and more. Hairphenalia 17 also provides services for corrective coloring should an at-home experience go awry, and a quick fix is warranted. Haircuts may take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on the style and who is performing the service.
Stylists take great pride in keeping current and are consistently building upon their skills by attending classes and participating in hair shows in and out of state.
Hairphenalia 17 is at located at 6642 George Washington Memorial Highway in York County. Hours of operation are from 9am to 7pm Tuesday to Thursday, 9am to 5pm on Friday, and 9am to 3pm on Saturday. The salon is closed Sunday and Monday. For more information, call 757-898-0997 or visit their website.