Surviving and thriving

Looks Unlimited, 404 N. Washington St. in Owosso, is celebrating 25 years in business. Shown, from left, are nail technician Tabitha Constine; her mother, owner Gloria Soukup; and Soukup’s daughter-in-law, manager Nicole Whelton.

OWOSSO — It was 25 years ago that Looks Unlimited first opened its doors at 404 N. Washington St., and on Wednesday clients were streaming through the hair, tanning and nail salon’s door and the phone was ringing and ringing.

It’s not easy to keep a hair salon afloat, even under ideal economic circumstances. Last year, tens of thousands were wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic. Clients and employees say Looks Unlimited has survived the odds for more than two decades because of its friendly crew and excellent service.

Julie Bauer, who’s been getting her nails done at Looks Unlimited for two years, said she started out doing it for a couple of special occasions but kept coming back for more — at the invitation of her husband, who loved the look.

“It’s a nice treat for myself,” she said Wednesday, as nail technician Tabitha Constine did her work. “But I think it’s the people I like best — they’re nice and friendly and very accommodating. I’ve never seen a grumpy person here.”

Setting the tone for the salon’s light and cheerful atmosphere is owner Gloria Soukup — Constine’s mother — who came face to face with the prospect of retiring 10 years ago, when she turned 50.

“I feel God has really blessed me,” Soukup said. “I remember turning 50 and thinking, ‘What do I want to do with the rest of my life?’ It’s being here. I love people, and I think that helps a lot.”

Constine started out cleaning tanning beds at age 14 and then served as receptionist. Later, she switched to nails after training as a technician.

“It’s obviously in the family,” Constine, 39, said. “I love working with my mom and all the girls here. The best part is the people: We want you to feel like you’re home.”

Nicole Whelton, Soukup’s daughter-in-law, manages the salon.

“The group of girls here are fun to work with,” Whelton said, “and (Soukup) is such a great person. She’s fun, caring and really down to earth. She’s an awesome mother-in-law, too. It’s nice to support someone you know.”

Growing up on a farm west of Oakley, Soukup earned her nail technician license 31 years ago and took a job at the Merle Norman in Owosso. She and a now-retired associate opened their own shop in Westown, but the owner of the space wanted it back.

Through a mutual friend, the pair opened Looks Unlimited in a building at 404 N. Washington, even though the exterior resembled a Sunshine Food Store, Soukup said with a laugh.

In the beginning, Soukup had a small crew. Today, they number 11. A complete building remodel and expansion, including the addition of two rooms, was undertaken by Jerry Coon, Soukup’s brother, in 2006.

Over the years, Soukup has observed changing trends. For one, women are seeking fewer perms. Also, the replacement of old-style fingernail polish with shellac, gel or powder means clients leave the shop with their nails already dry.

Another change is an expanded gift shop. Looks Unlimited was named the “Best of the Best” gift shop in the area by Argus-Press readers. Today, a whole room is filled with clothing, Petosky jewelry, coasters, purses, paintings and other specialty items, many made in Michigan.

Twenty-five years down, and how many more to go?

“I think we’re looking at another 25 years — as long as I can do it,” Soukup said. “I still have a handful of clients from 31 years ago. This is a nice community and we have great neighbors. I’m glad I’m here.”

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