Chicago finally lets its hair down about blow-dry bars
By Kara Spak firstname.lastname@example.org March 27, 2013 12:24PM
Stylist Imani of Blowtique, 1 E. Huron St., giving Blowout to Kristina Almassy, Thursday, March 21, 2013. | John H. White~Sun-Times
Where to go
† Blowtique, 1 E. Huron; Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Monday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Tuesday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; (312) 280-2400, www.blowtique.com
† Blow by Blow, 67 E. Oak; Monday through Wednesday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; (312) 867-0332, www.blow-by-blow.com
Updated: March 28, 2013 4:24PM
It’s America’s hottest beauty trend, or at least the one with the most hot air: standalone salons where stylists wash and blow dry your mane without offering a cut or color.
In Chicago, though, this concept seems to have blown right past us.
Blow dry bars haven’t quite taken off here at the same speed as other cities. Since 2008, four have opened in Chicago. Currently, two remain, Blowtique, 1 E. Huron, and Blow by Blow, 67 E. Oak.
The two major franchises of blow dry bars, Drybar and Blo, have expanded to smaller markets like Dallas, Atlanta and Charlotte but have not, at this point, set up shop in Chicago. Drybar plans to open a Lincoln Park location in the next six months, said co-founder Alli Webb.
“I live in L.A. and spent a good part of my 20s in New York,” she said. “Initially we went to places that we knew and knew that this was needed.”
The idea is simple — for $35, the cost of a manicure/pedicure, a stylist washes, then blows dries your hair, leaving you with a frizz-free bounce that should last three to four days. Updos are also offered, for twice the price.
It’s a throw back to the days of grandma getting her hair washed and set once a week in the beauty parlor.
Sue Leonis seized upon the idea after regularly visiting a blow dry bar when she traveled to Jordan in the mid-2000s.
“I felt like Queen Rania,” she said. “You do get addicted to it. You look good every week.”
With a partner, she opened Blodri, 408 N. Clark, in 2008. Unable to bring in enough business to pay rent, within a year, the blow dry bar began offering the full slate of salon services.
“I hated doing it,” she said. “It ruined our concept when we became a regular salon.”
By August 2011, Leonis and her partner cut their losses and sold the shop to Tracy Adduci, who runs a full-service salon at the location. Forty percent of her customers continue to come for blow dries, Adduci said.
“I think the appearance of people in (blow dry hotspots) Los Angeles and New York is a little different than Chicago,” Adduci said. “In the wintertime we actually don’t care.”
Despite Chicago’s lack of blow dry fervor, Fiona McEntee wasn’t concerned about opening Blowtique, last June. The attorney from Ireland believed in the blow dry bar concept, something that is popular in her home country, and is currently scouting other locations to expand.
“In Europe, in general, I know people who never wash their own hair,” she said. “I was really surprised when I moved here there was no feasible option.”
McEntee said she thinks there is a learning curve here but that so far, those who have tried it seem to like it.
“We get calls from people wondering if they should come in with wet hair,” she said (you shouldn’t, by the way). “The fact that people are still asking that shows there is a learning period.”
On October 25, 2012, Katie Gagnon opened Blow-by-Blow with her mother, Julie, after the pair became “addicted” to blow-outs while living in New York and Los Angeles, respectively.
Gagnon said that the coasts’ critical mass of models and actors may make the blow dry bar more of a natural fit. Still, business was brisk during the holidays and is picking up as the weather improves, she said.
“I think that at first the concept was something that didn’t catch on right away, sort of like nail salons,” she said.
Webb of Drybar said that it has taken her chain a few years to get to Chicago because they were deliberately trying to expand slowly.
There’s nothing inherent about the city — the weather, the wind or, God forbid, our hair — that makes her think she won’t succeed here.
“It’s just a question of timing and making sure we keep our quality really consistent across the board,” Webb said. “I’m so happy we are getting into Chicago.”