I walk into Virtue Salon armed with three cans to donate to their August food drive. I sit down and notice a basket of tomatoes, “Are those from your garden out back?”
“They are. Help yourself!” the receptionist cheerfully offers.
Melanie is finishing up a haircut as I look around. I think about how I would describe the interior – the colors, the eclectic furniture that began from Melanie’s great-grandfather’s barber chair, the stand that houses local items for purchase, the Pattycake Bakery cookies, the cheeerfulness of the employees and customers alike. Vibrant. It all feels so vibrant.
We sit down in salon chairs at the back of the store. Her husband TJ, who oversees the operations and scheduling for the salon, joins us.
I start by asking Melanie if there was a salon she looked to for inspiration when conceptualizing Virtue Salon.
“No, there wasn’t much out there then. I knew, to start, I wanted to open a salon. Not necessarily vegan – I wasn’t sure if that was even a possibility. But, as I started researching products I wanted to use, I came across some vegan offerings. It got me thinking – maybe it’s possible to use all vegan products in my salon. In 2010, I had to really search to find products that met my standards. It’s amazing what demand has done in just the last five years.”
The explosion of vegan, sulfate-free, paraben-free labeling requires a watchful eye though. “Unfortunately, we’ve realized that claims are not always accurate. We don’t take them at face value. Plus, we research the company’s values and philosophy, too. We want to support other businesses that share a similar vision to our own.”
I should point out that Virtue Salon isn’t “just” a vegan salon. They are equally passionate about being eco-conscious, from composting hair scraps, to using only cloth towels instead of paper, to their urban garden watered from their rain barrel. They sell local goods in their front lobby to support other local businesses. They are passionate about having an engaged, skilled, and dedicated team. And they support local charities and are active in the community.
If I may, their tagline could also be:
A vegan-eco-friendly-minimal-waste-while-supporting-other-small-businesses-and-caring-for-employees-and-community-concept salon.
I ask, with all these aspirations, “Is there anything you wish you could ‘cheat’ on?”
Both her and TJ look at each other, “Not really. You get used to your routines. Like not using paper towels, our solution works great for us, so you don’t miss paper towels. I will say the light bulbs are expensive though – an up-front investment. So maybe the light bulbs. Really, though, our practices that are so ingrained, you don’t even consider the alternatives.”
I am reminded of the wisdom:
Good habits are hard to establish but easy to live with. Bad habits are easy to establish but hard to live with.
I also make a mental note that I need to apply this to my on-going attempts to meditate regularly.
I then ask, “In your opinion, how has Columbus’ environmental consciousness evolved over the years?”
“Mayor Coleman has done a really great job with his GreenSpot initiative and the city’s recycling program. He’s really pushed Columbus to be on the leading edge of environmental awareness. Businsses and households can apply for membership by pledging to meet certain criteria like ‘buying supplies made of recycled materials’ or ‘tracking your monthly waste.’ The program has experienced incredible growth, which is great to see.”
With Virtue Salon’s green initiatives, it should come as no surprise that they received the 2012 City of Columbus Small Business GreenSpot Award.
What are some other Columbus businesses that stand out to you?
“Wholly Craft is excellent. They feature handmade goods from local crafters and artists. The team at Lucky 13 is great. Their employees love working there, and I think that’s so important. We love Compost Columbus, who collect compostable waste (like hair scraps) to turn into soil. We head over to Northstar and Whole World Natural Restaurant for their incredible vegan options.”
If you could snap your fingers and have something solved for you, what would it be?
“After world peace and everyone becoming vegan, I would want a free-standing building in Clintonville for Virtue Salon. It would have solar panels and be entirely sustainable. And it’d have a parking lot.”
What do you enjoy doing outside of the salon?
“We love riding our bikes along High Street and stopping at different bars and restaurants. It’s fun experiencing the energy of places. The other week, we biked to German Village and walked around. It was wonderful to explore the area.”
“When we travel, we love trying out new restaurants – New York, Ashville, and Chicago have great options. The Chicago Diner is a must.”
In creating a business entirely congruent to your values and passion, have there been any surprises?
“Overall, really positive surprises. The community is enthusiastic; they want us to flourish and that’s such a great feeling to know we’re supported. This place feels good. It has a positive energy. We feel embraced. You can’t ask for more than that.”
Seeing the high bar that Melanie sets for herself and her business, I’m excited to see who she selects when I ask, “Who do you think makes Columbus great?”
“I think she’s incredibly brave. She’s opened so many amazing restaurants, each of them original, each of them fantastic in such a relatively short period of time. And her employees love working for her.”
“She’s a great women’s advocate and really passionate about local matters. She works tirelessly to help small businesses succeed through her writing talents. The work she does is inspirational.”
Thanks, Melanie, for making Columbus great!