Part three in a series.
Guided by a gut feeling she couldn’t describe, Graciela Bustos decided to drive further down Sea Cliff Avenue to see what she would find. Instead of making the right or left on Glen Cove Avenue, she said of her first visit to the village 10 years ago, “Something told me to go straight.”
She ogled at the rows of Victorian villas on either side of the street, the sprawling green parks, and the shell-strewn beaches that reminded her of Mar de Ajó, the coastal city in Argentina where she grew up.
“Just going down those three blocks, I felt like I was back in my country,” said Bustos. “It was so magical.”
This magnetic pull eventually led Bustos to open her own business on Sea Cliff Avenue six years ago. Since 2012 Bustos, 45, has owned and operated Salon Solis, a full-service salon and spa. Despite its wide range of services — from haircuts, styling and makeup to massages, reiki and waxing — Salon Solis is considered “boutique,” and for good reason.
“There’s no coloring station, no blow-drying station, so you wouldn’t think it gets the clientele that it does,” said Sea Cliff resident Nicole Miller, the salon’s makeup artist. “But Graciela has grown the business so much, and it really focuses on the quality of the boutique salon.”
Surprisingly, Bustos never intended to get into the beauty industry. “It had been a dream all my life to find a passion and to do it, but I didn’t have an idea of what I wanted to do,” she said.
In Argentina, she had a series of office jobs, but she never felt truly fulfilled. It took a suggestion from a friend in New York to convince her to move away from everything she knew and learn a new language. Her response: “Why not?”
Bustos came to New York in 2000 as a single parent, and worked in delis and cleaned houses to support her son, Emmanuel. But she felt an urge to do more. Another friend suggested that she enroll in beauty school, an unusual concept to Bustos, since she had never been concerned with her appearance.
She put herself through beauty school by cleaning houses, babysitting and driving people to various locations. She worked in the salon circuit for years before getting hired as an assistant at J Martin salon in Williston Park, but she soon realized there was little room to grow.
“When you work for somebody else, you are very limited,” she said. Her husband, whom she had met at J Martin, said, “‘The only thing that will make you happy is if you have your own place.’”
In the search for a storefront, Bustos remembered the little village she had stumbled on some years earlier, and took her business to the same square block that had filled her with nostalgia. She opened Salon Solis across the street from another hair salon. People called her crazy, but she just told them, “Now you have choices.”
Bustos admits that even before she moved to the U.S., she was reluctant to learn English. But once she got here, she took classes to improve her speaking skills, and learned how to communicate with her clients in a way that didn’t require language.
“I learned to listen,” she said. “In order to understand my clients, and understand what they want, I have to connect with them in another way.”
“Graciela worked very hard to get to where she is today, and she looks for that in her employees,” Miller said. “She wants a very calming environment for her clients, and she makes sure her employees create that environment when we service them.”
This doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a shortage of fun in the salon, however. Miller recalls training under Bustos when she first joined the team. She was practicing conditioning techniques on Bustos’s hair when she lost her grip on the hose and “gave her a full-on shower,” Miller recounted. “We just cracked up.”
Having worked in a slew of salons, Bustos grew to hate the gossip that often circles among clients and stylists, which is why she endeavors to create a positive business environment. “I need one place where I can work and be happy,” she said. “That’s been my focus always.”