One of the most shocking things you experience when walking into Spruce Natural Nail Shop on Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine is the smell — it actually smells good. There’s a candle burning from neighboring shop The Candle Lab on the front desk, and hints of lavender and tea tree essential oils from the in-house product line used in each manicure and pedicure service are wafting through the air. You can even see the focused expressions of the at-work nail technicians, whose faces aren’t hidden behind characteristic salon ventilator masks.
Exposed brick walls, colorful ikat pillows, bright-green plants and a rainbow array of new spring polishes lined up on Brush Factory-designed shelving help the shop live up to its tagline of “Good. Clean. Fun.”
“You can still have polish on and feel good and look good without having to sacrifice harming your body and the environment,” says Molly Reckman, Spruce co-owner. “We really wanted to make sure that not only do your nails look good, but we’re not doing anything that can cause your body harm in any way.”
Inspired in part by an article that ran in The New York Times in May of last year titled The Price of Nice Nails — an exposé on the workplace practices of New York nail salons, which illuminated the human cost of what it takes to make a $10 manicure — Reckman and business partner Gayl Simkin decided to launch a nail salon with a specific focus on non-toxic and eco-conscious services and products.
“I had moved here about (three years ago) from Chicago,” Reckman says. “The neighborhood has been changing in the last eight to 10 years, especially. But really in the past three years there’s been a real resurgence — it’s becoming more like a neighborhood, and one of the things that seemed to be missing was a neighborhood nail shop.”
Reckman says hearing about the environmental conditions for both employees and visitors to nail salons also greatly concerned her.
“(The New York Times article) is what really set it off, so we thought, ‘If we’re going to do this, we need to do it the right way, and the total opposite way.’ ”
Based on a concept Reckman and Simkin found in a handful of salons in Los Angeles, Denver, New York, Washington, D.C. and Melbourne, Australia, Spruce offers “five-free” nail services, meaning the polishes they use are free of the five most common toxins found in most other nail polishes — formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, camphor, DDT and toluene. All of their products, including their Columbus-made Spruce-brand lotions, scrubs and cuticle oils, are also vegan and cruelty-free.
“It’s been crazy to see what’s been put into these polishes that doesn’t need to be,” Reckman says. “It doesn’t serve a purpose because our products without them tend to be better lasting than these other polishes.”
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s guide for nail salon workers warns that exposure to the aforementioned chemicals can cause a range of illnesses, including allergic reactions, cancer, birth defects, difficulty breathing, dizziness, numbness, damage to the liver and kidneys and more. The same would logically hold true for customers who are continually and repeatedly exposed. But chemicals weren’t the only concern.In addition to creating and carrying natural and vegan products, Reckman and Simkin also tried to avoid products with nut-allergy triggers. Simkin suffers from a range of allergies and product sensitivities herself.
“We’ve had a lot of people come in who have really specific allergies that have never gotten their nails done in their life who have come in and just had a great experience and they’re so excited that they get to kind of treat themselves and have this day out like everybody else gets,” Reckman says. “We made a really conscious decision to be very environmentally friendly as well as allergy friendly.”
Spruce carries all the on-trend colors from five-free polish lines Deborah Lippmann, ncLA, RGB, tenoverten and Zoya, and as a nail technician with a background in fine arts, Reckman says playing with colors and finding creative nail art is part of the fun. The salon also offers nail wrap services, nail art and stamping.
“We made a conscious decision not to do gels or shellac or acrylics,” Reckman says. “We get calls about it asking if we do it and that’s to be expected because actually we’re the only place in the state of Ohio that doesn’t offer it. But for what we’re wanting to do and the environment we want to keep, it really just wouldn’t work. And I think people have been more likely to come because we don’t offer it.”Although Reckman was nervous at first about community reaction to their mission and eco options, the response has been greater than expected, she says. They currently have five employees and are looking to hire more nail techs to keep up with demand. The salon can’t always accept walk-ins, especially on busy days, and they can only take small bridal or bachelorette parties. But they hope to change that in the future.
“We definitely want to make sure that we’re able to take any walk-in that comes in,” Reckman says, “because where we’re at, it’s a walk-in neighborhood. People have time to kill between meetings, between dinner.”And while there is no such thing as cheap luxury, Spruce took pains to make sure their services are still affordable — manicures and pedicures run between $20 and $45.
“We really took a lot of care making sure it’s really an environment that’s welcoming for everybody to come in and just have a nice, chill, relaxing and healthy experience,” Reckman says. “We wanted to make sure it is accessible to everybody.”
Learn more about SPRUCE NATURAL NAIL SHOP at sprucenailshop.com.