At Large in Ballard: Lovely toes
By Peggy Sturdivant
When I called they already knew my name. When I arrived they had flowers for me. How many of us have people waiting for our call that we don’t even know about?
Several folks had suggested that I do a column on a longtime local business, and had even written the editor. But there was another reason that I was overdue to pay a visit to LT Nails (2309 NW Market St). I needed to thank them in person for the floral arrangement they sent to my mother-in-law’s memorial over a year ago. All it took was mentioning her name; they already knew mine from her.
Charlotte was one of their regulars. LT Nails has about 250 regulars. The sister owners even know the year that a client started coming into the salon, and Kathy and Kim Tran always know the year better than the client.
After reading the column about The Viking’s closure, Betty Phelps sent this note to the Ballard News-Tribune. “It made me think how unique Ballard businesses and how interesting it would be to read a series on them. I would nominate LT Nails on Market. I believe I'm their longest-time client (18 years) and have always been amazed at how Kim and Kathy not only greet every customer by name, but ask about by name every family member one has ever talked to them about.” She concluded, “It’s a party there.”
I was late to the party.
Just two years after emigrating with their family from Vietnam in 1992, Kathy and her younger sister Kim took over the Market Street business, name included. They made it their extended living room almost immediately; their regulars became their extended family. And Kathy’s take on both is, “My family very wonderful.”
Kathy and Kim will celebrate 20 years in business as LT Nails next April. They plan to rent the Elks Club for the occasion, “We want to say thank you to everyone for supporting our business.” Kathy and Kim Tran never did change the original name of the salon. Their favorite customer suggestion is that LT stands for ‘Lovely Toes.’
When the Trans took over LT Nails in 1994, it was the only nail salon in Ballard. As of this week there are six in downtown Ballard alone. “Everybody call around and try to get a bargain,” Kathy Tran said. “Before, that never happen.” But their regulars aren’t swayed by competition; many become biweekly clients for life.
“Sometimes they move away. Sometimes they pass away.” Kathy leaned toward me. “I miss my Charlotte,” she said. “I knew she was getting kind of weak. I told her if she need nails done to call me. I would pick her up.”
Despite the competition, LT Nails has had a very busy summer. They remodeled a few months ago and have added Sunday hours because of the foot traffic from the Farmers Market. They’ve added a fourth person working in the shop. A regular reminded Kathy that she’d claimed that when there was a fourth person she would take a vacation during the slower winter months. “It hasn’t happened yet,” the regular said.
Kathy beamed, “I missing all my customers too much.” Before she and her family came to the U.S. she was studying to become a teacher. She and her extended family live in Renton, but LT Nails in Ballard has been her pride and joy since she was twenty four. “I love it,” she said. “I do anything for my customers.”
There’s a bustling quality inside the shop with its full-length windows looking out onto Market Street. People become friends there. They share, “Fun stories. Happy stories. Big stories,” Kathy said.
Who doesn’t want to enter a place where you’re hugged, seated, offered tea, fussed over, always remembered? It was all women the day I visited, even though Kathy says more men are becoming clients. There was a young woman who’d brought her mother for the first time and several regulars in chairs, listening in as Kathy and I talked. Kim kept working but smiled at me every time she caught me watching. “Sounds like you’re a regular,” I said to Cindy, who used to own Tyler’s Toys in Ballard.
“Fourteen or fifteen years,” Cindy said.
“Sixteen,” Kathy corrected. “Remember you started coming here for Tiffany’s wedding?”
Kathy was right of course.
After more hugs I left with my dozen roses. I found myself thinking about a friend of mine who recently had his second professional haircut as an adult. “I found out about the head massage,” he said by way of explanation. Having been single for my share of years I can understand that completely. We need touch.
At LT Nails there is always touch. Not just the massage of hands and feet, but an emotional touch when someone greets you by name, as though you just made their day.
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