In 1998, Bianca Brookman opened Aria Salon at 11th and E Pike. Today, the salon has moved three times in twenty years. Aria has re-opened after its third move, and Brookman hopes the salon’s new home on 15th and John is permanent, proving small businesses and the gayborhood can thrive on the Hill today.
“It’s not the Pike and Pine corridor, but we’re in our 20th year, we have amazing staff, and I’m super excited,” Brookman said. “There’s a lot of good energy up here, and we’re ready for another 20 years.”
Prior to the salon’s move to 15th and John behind Bakery Nouveau, Aria resided on E Pine adjacent to Dingfelder’s Delicatessen. Brookman believed Aria would remain in its home since 2008 for years to come, and she sought to make changes to the salon’s layout. While renegotiating Aria’s lease on the space to ensure the salon’s longevity, Brookman learned she could not extend her lease beyond the duration of a development project set to wrap around the building.
She was also concerned with how the new development’s layout would impact the old building’s appearance and structural integrity, even if Aria could afford to remain in the space once construction was completed. Brookman viewed the situation as an opportunity to find Aria its latest permanent home.
“I don’t know what they have planned for the building after the construction project, but because of development I call it a clogged river,” Brookman said. “Things just weren’t following and I didn’t have any future there, I had to find something that was going to give me some longevity.”
Remaining on Capitol Hill meant leaving Pike/Pine, a section of the hill Aria called home for twenty years. Brookman has remained positive throughout the salon’s third move, taking challenges in stride. Among a series of hiccups, the salon’s computer system used for booking clients broke during the move.
“I showed up to work and my computer crashed. I literally lost everything. It was an older computer and my bad, but it forced me to think in terms of out with the old in with the new, because I didn’t have record of any of my clients,” Brookman said.
Rising rent prices also forced the salon to downsize to fit into its new home, yet after two moves, Brookman was familiar with downsizing. Aria’s first location boasted twelve salon chairs, its second housed ten, and now the salon is down to four.
“It feels like a cleanse for me, and I got rid of all the old furniture from the old place. We gave some of our chairs to the state penitentiary system since they have a barbering program, and I gave some of our equipment to a local tattoo artist,” Brookman said. “It felt really good to support the neighborhood and be able to spread the love.”
According to Brookman, staying on the Hill was worth the trouble, especially after she found ways to support and nurture the surrounding community while moving. Creating community and setting a positive example for other small businesses has remained important since Aria’s inception in the late 90s. Brookman noted the salon was first surrounded by a multitude of other small, gay-owned businesses.
“It was all lesbian owned and I’m gay, so it was like kind of a lesbian owned corner, but it’s different now.” Brookman said. “The Hill used to be kind of rocker, kind of gay, and had plenty of artists, but I feel like gay people are having to leave the hill to open businesses in other neighborhoods.”
Brookman noted the fact queer people live and run businesses in neighborhoods other than Capitol Hill is positive as it is reflective of and contributes to larger acceptance of LGBTQ+ identities. While change is indicative of increased inclusivity in Seattle as a whole, the gayborhood’s downsizing is also the result of small businesses struggling to keep up with rising rent prices. According to Brookman, the departure of small businesses deprives the hill of the character, creativity, and warmth she once felt.
“Hopefully there’s still gonna be a few of us small business owners, gay business owners, and women business owners that are gonna give the hill the character and artistic flavor it’s had for years,” Brookman said. “If we lose our artists, creative people, and small businesses it’s going to end up being a pretty non-creative place.”
Along with sustaining the character of Capitol Hill, Brookman’s efforts to keeping Aria in the increasingly expensive neighborhood after multiple moves, downsizing efforts, and searches for new clientele are geared towards providing what she believes is a necessary safe space for LGBTQ+ identities as queer people leave the area.
“I feel that I’ve been building this community so long. I’ve been showcasing art every 6-8 weeks for 20 years, and I don’t take commission because it’s my pleasure to showcase artwork. I’ve also helped my stylists open salons.”
“Being gay, I always felt this was my neighborhood in a sense. It’s certainly good to start spreading the love other places, but this has felt like a safe place for me,” Brookman said. “We want to support our longtime clients that we’ve had up here forever. There still needs to be flavor, artists, and gay people feeling safe, and if we’re all moving away it’s not going to happen.”
Aria opened on 15th and John in earlyJuly and has been fulfilling the exact role Brookman intended for the salon. According to Brookman, since the salon is surrounded by other small businesses, Aria has become more walk-in friendly. Brookman believes the salon’s warm welcome to 15th is promising.
“It feels like there’s small businesses and they’ve been there for awhile,” said Brookman. “In the past I’ve tried to pioneer areas that were up and coming, but I guess that means eventually development’s going to move around it. Now, I feel like we’ve moved somewhere that’s already existing, and I feel happy and safe where we’re at.”
The promise of the salon’s longevity has also allowed Brookman to invest time and effort into adapting the new, smaller space to Aria’s aesthetic, making sure each of the services provided at Aria’s previous location are accessible in its new home.
“We were able to keep our two small rooms for eyelashes and waxing while smartly fitting everything into the small space and making it flow really well, like a Japanese style apartment,” Brookman said. “We also keep it really open because Aria means air in Italian.”
With clientele growing, new equipment, and an airy appearance, Brookman hopes the salon’s third move is final.
“Three’s a charm and I’m sure this space is going to give us some safety without having to be fearful of development on Capitol Hill, because everywhere you look, there’s development.”
Aria Salon is now located at 131 15th Ave E. You can learn more at ariasalon.com.
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