Melissa Duke: Owner/Stylist Graffiti Salon

So, if you’ve been reading my blogs with any kind of consistency, then you may have noticed that I like to start my features out with some sort of fun/interesting introduction to act as a diving board into all of the fascinating things the people I interview have to say. And today’s profile on Melissa Duke wasn’t going to be an exception to that; however, Melissa owns a beauty salon! I have almost zero experience or relationship tied to that line of work. So, what could I say? “Hey, guys! Anthony here, and I have hair! Speaking of hair, here’s Melissa!” No. That would be weird. That being said, my fears began to shift when Melissa started telling me about Graffiti Salon itself. “I wanted to make it a place you wouldn’t expect to be in Elko,” she explained. This perked up my ears. If there’s one thing I love, it’s unique! I had to check this place out for myself! And, I have to admit, it was pretty darn cool. The location is full of beautiful art, there’s gorgeous acrylic pair of scissors right as you walk in, galvanized piping in the bathrooms to give it that industrial feel, and modern decor all throughout this place. They even use Husky tool boxes as their workstations! Downtown Reno, you’d expect to find a place with a vibe like this but in Elko? Very nice.

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For the interview itself, Melissa and I were joined by her husband Jordan. Jordan and Melissa were high school sweethearts who got married and have been together for 21 years. But not only that, they had known each other since kindergarten! That fact blew my mind and maybe an awesome discussion for another blog post but when it came to Melissa and her overall journey, we started at the beginning. “I was born in Elko, raised in Carlin. I graduated in 2000 and then moved to Reno, after and went to cosmetology school. I graduated there in 2001 and then moved to Elko with Jordan. I got my first job at Suzy’s Hair and Nails; it was just a new salon in town that caught my eye. I worked commission there, and I feel like it was a really good learning environment. Not for just learning hair and trends but the people who were there were genuine.” Melissa began to describe with emotion in her voice. “They were older…and with them it wasn’t all about hair or nails. It was about the relationships. And there I was hungry; I wanted to succeed and be good at what I did, so I never turned people away and I was always there doing a lot of sitting. I was able to build my clientele fairly quickly (I thought) from family and friends who have known me from growing up in Carlin. But in 2003 my Aunt, Jan Pescio (current owner of the East End Mall) approached me about managing  a salon down at the East End Mall called 5th Avenue. I immediately jumped on board and went to run 5th Avenue for about three years. In 2006 we had our first baby; we thought nothing would change that much having a baby, we could just bring him along with us. No, everything changed. Everything changed a lot. We had a babysitter that didn’t really work out so my only option was to work on his (Jordan’s) day off from the mines. We didn’t have to rely on a sitter, but this, in turn, meant that we didn’t have any days off together. And unfortunately this wasn’t enough time to fulfill my duties as a manager, so I ended up moving over to Desert Ray, which was bought from Suzy’s. So, a lot of the same people, it was the same salon I started at, but, a different name. In 2008 we had our second son. We decided, why not, we’re going to try for a girl! Well, in 2010 we ended up with twins (boy and girl)! I cried, four kids in four years was wild. In 2013 the owner of Desert Ray told me she was selling and closing down. But at this time, my aunt was not the owner of the East End Mall. So, I approached her asked if she had a spot to lease for a salon It took her awhile, but she finally said yes. And so, October 2013 we opened Graffiti. It’s busy but it’s a fun place to go Being the youngest, in the salons I worked at in the past, they were able to teach me so much and I wanted to be that to some of these new stylists who were coming out. Not to be just about the hair or money but about the relationships.”

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Melissa’s four children: Toren (11), Riott (9), Sevren (7), Sypress (7)

Good word, Melissa! It’s always about relationships and the people! Is that why you love doing what you do so much? “The guests who sit in my chair, who have great faith in me and my abilities, we have great conversations. We genuinely enjoy each other’s company and that’s how I stay passionate. I strive to be the best I can be behind the chair” she elaborated with tears in her eyes, “so when they leave, they feel my passion in my work. My goal is to have them feel confident, sophisticated, unique anyway they need to feel in order to express themselves. I feel like we have a friendship; they push me to be a better person and a good example. I feel like I owe it to them to be a spunk in their day, a compliment when they least expect it, and an ear when they want to talk.”

It sounds like you’re loved and appreciated by a lot of people, Melissa! Now, as I’ve admitted before I have zero knowledge of this space, what is it like to be in the salon culture, specifically in Elko? “When it comes to the stylists’ world in Elko, the competition is fierce! There are many many creative, educated, and good stylist in this town. There is where I’m thankful for the loyalty of my clients because they could go anywhere but for some reason, they choose me! And I think, in this fierce competition between stylist, it’s just a lot prettier to be nice. I don’t care to put people down; there’s definitely somebody for everybody. But knowing the competition is fierce has definitely up’d my game. But if I like your hair, I’ll tell you and I don’t even care who did it! Making the world and this community beautiful is what we’re all about, and if we can do it classy…that’s where I’d like to be.”

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Melissa and Husband Jordan

Now, this is usually the part of the interview where I ask the person on the other side of the table if they’re currently facing any sort of obstacles or struggles in what they do or where they are. It took Melissa a couple seconds to gear up to answer this question because was preparing to share something that not too many people know about. As it has been a couple of times throughout this interview, her response came with some real emotions and misty eyes. “This is a hard one. It just rips my heart apart. I have made the decision…I’m currently looking for someone to take over Graffiti Salon. To be with my family and not to have to worry about making everything run smoothly…I just need to take a step back. For myself, I’m not going to stop doing hair. I don’t know where; I don’t know what the future has I just know I’m looking for someone who is motivated and can continue the success as Graffiti the way I did and I have. I don’t know how long that’s going to take; I just know it’s time for me to focus on family. Life’s too short. I want to able to do what I do now but kill it even harder without having to worry about running the business. I want to be at 100% in everything I do. It’s exhausted me, and I can’t be the best me if I’m exhausted…I know I can’t. As of now, the salon is staying open; I’m just waiting for someone to come along and take pride and ownership of it.”

Gosh, thank you for your honest and wholeheartedness, Melissa. I know that this decision didn’t come easy for you, but I know your family will be blessed so much by your loving presence, your future clients as well! Both your family and your guests know how big your heart is; how can we (readers of this blog) walk away remembering this about you? “I hope people will know that I’ve worked hard and a ton of hours behind the chair to be successful. Nothing has been given to me. I’m sure a lot of people think that (because of who my aunt is) it was given to me. No, I worked [butt] off. To me, it’s just that much more gratifying knowing that I have worked for that. So, it totally hurts my heart to know my dream of Graffiti is coming to an end for me. It’s amazing and it’s successful, it’s my second home really, but my hope is that I can watch it grow with somebody who can be just as proud of it as I am. I want people to know that I value my character. I’m sensitive, obviously, I’m real and I have a lot of love and passion helping people expressing who they are and what they want to be through their hair. Elko has given me so much self-confidence just by supporting myself and the salon so much. I feel like I owe a huge thank you to them for helping me love my job. It’s so gratifying. A common thing I find myself saying to my guests when they come in if they want something new or they’re not sure, they just don’t have the self-confidence…wear it like you own! If you put that out there…you can achieve big things.”

Thank you, Melissa! Thank you so much for helping many people in our community feel confident and proud of who they are. You definitely help make our little town beautiful!

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