By Delila Nakaidinae, Journalism Graduate Student
There are nearly 20 nail salons in Oxford offering nail care services and that does not include the number of independent nail techs who work by appointment only. For a population of around 26,000 there are many options for customers to choose from, and the number of nail technicians is expected to steadily increase. According to a U.S. News Report, between now and 2031, the nail tech position is expected to grow by 22.4%, making way for 36,600 new jobs.
“I started learning how to do nails in my mom’s basement,” said Chris Lee, owner of Nail Thology on University Avenue. “I thought they were really cool and I just decided to open a nail business.” From there, Lee went on to open six other nail salons through northern Mississippi, two of which are still open today.
Lee has been part of the Oxford business community since 1996 when he opened Nail Thology, the first nail salon in Oxford. “Every year there are new students that come and need their nails done,” Lee said. “Everyone is welcome.”
A Tradition of Nails
The University of Mississippi is one of the main sources of manicure customers, some coming back long after they graduate.
“I went to Ole Miss in the 90s and we would come to him then,” said Jennifer Eastland, a long-time client of Lee’s and Oxford resident. “We would always go to him for acrylics, French manicures, and things like that.”
Eastland moved back to Oxford around 12 years ago after graduating from Ole Miss and went right back to Nail Thology. “[Lee] is always open, like on the weekends when a lot of other people aren’t and he never tells you no,” Eastland said. “I’ll call and say ‘Chris can I get in?’ and he’ll say ‘Yes, come on!’”
Independent Nail Techs
Amidst the closings, many nail technicians took it upon themselves to open their own businesses, rather than renting a table in a nail salon. Aniesha Render is an independent nail tech working out of Holly Springs. The small business she started in late 2020 is called Nails by NiNi. She has been working independently of a salon, offering acrylic nails and toes, as well as gel manicures for both men and women.
“People come to me because of my creativity,” the 20-year-old Render said. “I do a lot of freehand nail art that you can’t get around here, I’ve always been more of an artsy person.” She has done nail art ranging from cartoon characters to pop art nails and beyond.
“I knew that working jobs around town was not for me and I started doing nails to save some money for myself,” Render said. “My family and friends came to me for their nails and one time I recreated a set for my friend and she said it looked exactly like the picture so I decided to pick this up full time.”
While salons are often able to accommodate walk-in clients, Render’s small business is by appointment only, and spots fill up fast. “In a month, I’ll have 50 to 60 clients, it really just depends.”
On average, customers of both Nail Thology and Nails by NiNi spend around $80 for a full set. Prices vary drastically depending on the length, nail art and shape among other factors. In previous years, nail customers could get a full set for around $35.
“If people are upset by climbing prices, I would tell them to just get what they can afford,” said Jenna Harris, an independent nail tech working out of Oxford. “Prices aren’t just climbing for [the customers,] they’re climbing for me as well and I can’t short myself when I know my worth.”
Harris is the owner of Jenna Luv Nails, and she works with both press-ons and acrylics.
“I try to make sure [customers] understand all the practice and dedication that I put into this to give them something they leave loving and knowing that the nails will last.”
Some customers who get their nails done regularly aren’t happy with price increases they say they’ve seen locally.
“It annoys me, especially because I’ve heard the quality of service has gone down at many salons,” Shaya Brooks said, an avid acrylic wearer. “I know that at my nail salon, they don’t do cuticle oil or lotion massages at the end anymore, but they’ve raised prices by $20.”
Yet, overall, Brooks is satisfied.
“I’ve gone to US Nails the whole time I’ve been here and they are the best,” Brooks said. “I usually get my nails done every two to three weeks by them and I’m never disappointed.”
Independent nail techs may have more options when it comes to adjusting prices. For example, Render offers specials for her clients to make the most of their time and money. “I do specials especially when there are big events coming up such as graduation and prom,” Render said.
At Nail Thology, Lee is known as the person to go to for intricate designs. “Whatever [the customer] wants, I’ll do it,” Lee said. “If they’re happy then I’m happy.”
For many customers, though, acrylics are a timeless nail service that has been in style for over 60 years.
Brooks says that she has been getting acrylics since she was 14. “I started off with getting just a simple square shape, but then switched to coffin [shape] when I was around 16 or 17,” said the now 22-year-old Brooks. “Overall though, a typical set for me is pretty minimal, not too many designs.”
Whether you like XL coffins or natural shorts, if you’re looking for nail care in Oxford, be aware that the local techs are regularly booked and busy with some taking appointments months in advance.