Midtown nail salon's "safe space" draws tri-state patrons

Natalie Yates has been booking nail appointments with Janice Penny, owner of Colours Nail Salon, for several years. She makes the drive from Southaven, Mississippi to visit Penny at her Cooper-Young salon and receive what Penny calls a “professional manicure,” an office-appropriate style perfect for the working women of Memphis.

“It’s a life-changing experience. [Janice Penny] does much more than just do our nails. And the clients here, we are like family," Yates said. "If one has an issue, we all pray about it, and then we all come in and celebrate it. It’s like no other manicure shop I’ve been to, and I’ve been to a few. You get personal hands-on service.”

Penny has been serving women — and men, she made sure to note — in Memphis and the surrounding area since 1991, when she opened up Colours when she fresh out of high school. The first location was on Knight Arnold Road in East Memphis. 

"I was excited, young, energetic, and I didn’t have any fear. I thought I could do everything and anything. I had no college experience, no business classes. I just had an ‘I can do it’ attitude,” said Penny.

Though Colours is Penny’s one-woman show that she runs and operates alone, her family took a major role in helping her get started. “My dad was a senior gentleman at the time who didn’t have much to offer me but he told me, ‘Baby, you can have my credit card and go and get some of the things that you need.’”
Janice Penny, owner of Colours the Nail Salon, does a patron's nails. (Sarah Jones)As a young girl with her own business, things didn’t always progress in a straight line. Penny recalls the struggles she has faced in fortifying her salon’s reputation and keeping that reputation afloat for over twenty-five years.

“Oh gosh, we’ve had hiccups on a number of occasions,” says Penny. “Money is one of the biggest and largest complications, [not being able to] employ the individuals in order to staff my business. Learning about how business is really done financially is the biggest problem that I had.”

Since her stint in East Memphis, Penny has moved to two different locations in Midtown and is now located in Cooper Young, a favorite neighborhood of locals and out-of-towners alike for its myriad of quaint, yet thriving, small businesses.

Penny’s salon is no exception. But instead of just attracting locals, Penny pulls clientele from across the city and surrounding areas.

An average salon may not attract customers from Arkansas and Mississippi as well as middle Tennessee, but that's the case at Colours. The only conclusion is that Colours offers something unique in its atmosphere, Penny said.

“I have clients that come from across the bridge, clients coming in from Cordova, clients coming in from Stanton, Tennessee,” says Penny. “It’s a true blessing to have people who want to come to Colours Nail Salon to get their manicure and pedicure needs. Here at Colours Nail Salon, you have the connection. That’s what sets us apart from other salons.”

Because of her long-standing relationships with her clients, her customer base has not necessarily changed since moving from one neighborhood in the city to another. Wherever Penny goes, her clients go.

Colours is not, as Penny calls it, an “assembly line type of salon” where the client holds hands with a complete stranger and leaves freshly manicured after zero words have been exchanged with the nail technician. Make an appointment at Colours, and things are a little different. “We would get to know each other, get to build a relationship,” said Penny.

Having a space in Memphis where people of all backgrounds would feel welcome is non-negotiable for Penny, and that impetus inspired the name of her salon.

“In the '90s, Memphis was moving so quickly toward diversity because that’s when FedEx became the biggest industry in our city. And if FedEx was going to grow, we had to grow,” said Penny.

But growing in size also means growing in mindset, and Penny predicted a need for an all-inclusive environment to service her clients even before the shift in the city.

“Colours stands for diversity of people, the inclusion of individuals, respecting more than one national origin, color, religion, socioeconomic [status], and sexual orientation. We can’t keep getting confused; we’re all here to love one another. This is a safe space for everybody, but we’ve got to have more of these safe spaces all over the city.”

A selection of polish at Colours the Nail Salon, located at 881 South Cooper. (Sarah Jones)

Though Colours has seen years of success, serving almost 50 clients per month, Penny has begun to feel the need to take a new direction with her business to service her changing clientele.

“I have always worked with professional women, who wanted a professional, work-appropriate manicure, but now I have more retired women,” said Penny. Though hesitant to reveal too much about this upcoming leg of her journey, Penny wants to continue catering to the needs of her customers by incorporating some new philosophies into her business within the next year.

“We’re going to move from beauty to wholeness. The beauty industry is a wonderful business, but in order for us to move forward as a community as well, I think wholeness needs to be taught in addition to beauty.”

Read more articles by Sarah Jones.

Sarah Galyean Jones is the Assistant Editor at Justine Magazine and the author of The Broken Haven (Lands Atlantic Publishing, 2016). She has contributed articles to Memphis Magazine, Citiscapes Magazine, and blogs occasionally on her site, "The Rough Draft". Sarah is a born-and-raised Memphian and now lives in Midtown with her golden retriever mix.