Sisters Set Out To Make Waves On Audubon

Allan Appel PhotoLuvena Leslie snipped her first customer’s wavy locks, as two entrepreneurial sisters took part in an effort to revive a stretch of vacant Yale properties with a cluster of wellness-oriented stores.

Thursday was opening day at the Luvena Leslie Salon at 71 Audubon St., where 31-year-old Leslie has set up shop amidst a stretch of vacant storefronts owned by Yale.

On her first full day, she had eight clients booked, including one so loyal she made it her goal to be the salon’s first customer—and even showed up with a gift.

It’s that kind of loyalty that is the centerpiece of Leslie’s business plan. “I have really amazing clients,” she said. “I’m counting on how much people love me.”

Leslie said she’ll be part of a growing cluster of wellness-oriented stores in Yale properties along Audubon, which is rather dark and vacant these days.

That cluster includes a juice bar called Pure Health, which is “coming soon” at 99 Audubon. The Amadeus Center for Health & Healing is just around the corner on Lincoln Way.

All the storefronts between Leslie’s shop and the coming juicebar are vacant, including 77 (pictured), 83, 87 and 97 Audubon. Previous stores, including a toy shop and the Devil’s Gear Bike shop, have not been able to survive at that location. (Yale Properties couldn’t be reached Thursday or Friday for this story.)

In her three years at the Jo Bruno Salon on Whitney Avenue, Leslie earned a reputation as a popular and effervescent stylist with an expertise in handling curly and wavy locks.

Leslie left Jo Bruno earlier this summer. She had been planning to stay for five years, but on June 21 she peered through the tinted windows 71 Audubon, at what had been the Ivanova salon. That’s when she knew it was time to open her own place.

The next day, Leslie brought her sister to the vacant salon. She pronounced the space beautiful.

A week later they were partners. By Aug. 11 they had signed a lease, and the salon opened less than a month later.

Jones is handling the business side. “She’s OCD in the best sense,” said Leslie.

Jones earned her organizational skills with three small kids as well as having spent May 2009 to May 2010 with the 395th Combat Support Sustainment Battalion in Iraq. Jones will be at the salon from 9 to 3 and then home with her kids, who are all in school.

Leslie is a single mom who prior to this new venture had worked two jobs, as a stylist and also as a resident counselor for intellectually disabled adults in Branford.

Leslie said to open the place seemed close to predestined. “You’d think it’s luck. I prefer [to think of it as] it’s God’s favor from heaven.”

Leslie said she had “not a second of hesitation about starting the business. Someone was walking by and said, aren’t you scared? I said, ‘Scared of what?’”

And so far so good. She said the day after she signed the lease, clients were calling her. She’s booked up for this week and nearly booked up for two to three weeks ahead.

Leslie said Yale has been very supportive and is organizing an event to publicize the opening. Jones said after the salon gets off its feet, she wants to be involved in offering salon services to community groups with a focus on veterans.

Opening Day

On Thursday, Leslie was fully booked for opening day. Her first customer was Sarah Greenblatt, a social worker. “It was my goal to be her first client and I fulfilled it,” she said.

She gave Leslie bamboo plant for luck.

“Cutting hair is an art,” said Greenblatt as Leslie draped her in a black apron. And of Leslie, “she has it down.”

Cutting curly or wavy hair is even more of an art. When you find someone who understands it, you stick with them, said Greenblatt.

And no one can say that knowledge of curly hair isn’t personal with Luvena Leslie. She knows, for example, when you dry curly hair, you use a defusing dryer (pictured), that mitigates the heat so that fine hair like Greenblatt’s doesn’t get overwhelmed.

There’s more, however, to Leslie’s success than her expertise with curly hair, Greenblatt said. “The key to a good salon is listening to clients. She tries to get to know clients but in a non-intrusive way. She’s a curious and respectful person,” she said.

After drying, Greenblatt confessed that it is, secretly, her dream too to open a salon. “She’s just living my dream. I want to see her succeed so I’m telling everyone.”

Greenblatt thinks the block should not be difficult to make the business a success. She suggested mothers dropping off kids at the music school would be able to drop in to get their hair and nails done. The salon was an opportunity waiting for the right person, and that person is Leslie, she added.

At 9:45, as Greenblatt left, the second customer came in, equally excited. “I can’t believe you did this,” said Barbara Campbell (pictured in top photo), a businesswoman herself who appreciates what’s involved in opening a new venture.

“She’s so spiritual and has a lot of faith. She’s young, for her to take this step, she has a young child. You got to have a lot of faith,” she said of Leslie.

Campbell oohed when Leslie lifted her hair up off her neck. She said she would be totally transformed by 10:30 a.m.



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posted by: Gauss on September 2, 2011  12:44pm

I wish her best of luck, but nothing, nothing has survived on that side of the street…

posted by: nhv on September 2, 2011  12:55pm

I think what Audubon St is a hang out place, that has a name that is known. Put a Starbucks or a froyo shop there - that’ll build up the pedestrian traffic.

You need a store that will constantly have people going in and out. I don’t care whether it’s a Starbucks or another Blue State. But a store with a name familiar to people out of town would be best.

posted by: LOVELY on September 2, 2011  1:05pm


posted by: Diana on September 2, 2011  1:35pm

Thank you all for the support!!! We will definitely last here on Audubon!!!! :-)

posted by: Eva, Formerly the Book Lady of Audubon Street on September 2, 2011  1:57pm

It’s not quite true that “nothing has survived” there. There’s been nothing there lately, aye, but in 1988 a used and rare bookshop opened on Audubon Street, and it closed around 2002. Which means it was there for a good, long time. No small retail operation is likely to last forever, but Arethusa was there for longer than you’d guess on the basis of how poorly retail has done on that block ever since Arethusa closed.

posted by: Amy on September 2, 2011  2:10pm

Great stylist who I believe will be a great draw for the space!

posted by: Rosanna Gonsiewski on September 2, 2011  2:45pm

I have known Luvena for three years now.  I have never stuck with a certain hairstylist for any period of time as I was never truly pleased with any of them—UNTIL I FOUND LUVENA!  I love her not because she has the hair expertise I have been looking for, but I love her because of the person she is.  God has blessed us humans with an “Earth Angel”—my Luvena!  I pray for only the best for Luvena and her sister!

posted by: Josh Vega on September 2, 2011  3:41pm

I wish you two all the best. I showed my wife the article, we will be there after the baby is born.  Josh Vega Jr.

posted by: um, koffee anyone? on September 2, 2011  7:20pm

Koffee has been extremely successful on that very same block and is the best coffee shop in New Haven (in my opinion). People are constantly in and out. Why would you put a Starbucks there to compete? Please, let’s not advocate for a corporate coffee shop that would endanger one of our best local businesses.

Good luck to these gorgeous and ambitious women!

posted by: Lord C on September 2, 2011  7:30pm

Good luck. They seem like nice folks,probably are.I wish the Indy posted their rent costs.Heat and hot water included ? A nice jazz club or Chris Martins’ type would work here - get the police involved and one can have an all-nighter,watch the money flow like watered down jack

posted by: Tamara on September 2, 2011  8:27pm

i live in australia and have family and friends in New Haven. Every year when we come an visit an appointment with Luvena is a must because she is my favourite hairdresser and a wonderful person. I am happy for her new salon and she can count on that i will be back! Good luck, Luvena!

posted by: bookchick on September 3, 2011  2:43pm

Salon Ivanova opened a shop there almost exactly one year ago, and had to close due to lack of foot traffic, customers, etc. These ladies are the beneficiaries of Ivanova being bullied into leaving all their improvements, i.e., an entire salon, behind so that it could break an unprofitable lease. Good luck to these women, I truly mean it. Yale is a notoriously bad landlord who charges exorbitant fees for maintenance, and is unresponsive in emergencies. They will sweet talk you to get you in, promise the moon, and then only show up to get the rent.

posted by: Kareen H. on September 3, 2011  6:15pm

Congratulations Ladies!!

posted by: Duncan Goodall on September 3, 2011  10:02pm

Hello Leslie!  Welcome to the neighborhood!  We wish you the best, and fully support another local business!!  Let me know if there is anything I can do to help you in this difficult starting phase!



posted by: alf726 on September 4, 2011  10:42am

It is sad that the previous salon didn’t succeed, but Luvena Leslie Salon opened with a loyal clientele that would follow Luvena anywhere! Starting without this on a quiet street would certainly be a disadvantage, but this is not the case. And, a renewed interest in businesses opening on this road shows that the energy is growing.
Luvena’s talent, her spirit and faith, and her partnership with her sister are all keys to her assured success. Bashing Yale as a landlord - that sounds like sour grapes.

posted by: Noteworthy on September 5, 2011  1:36pm

Good luck. What this city needs is more young and new businesses who will employ people who live here. Eds and meds are fine and they employ a lot of people. But theydon’t always employ New Haveners nor can they employ the vast number of people who are unemployed here which pushing 20%.

posted by: Erica Atkins on September 5, 2011  3:20pm

Luvena is the best when it comes to curly hair, thoughtfulness and a caring touch! Even though I have moved to White Plains, NY now, I will make sure to drive the extra miles to see Luvena at her new salon.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on September 5, 2011  6:58pm

posted by: Erica Atkins on September 5, 2011 3:20pm
Luvena is the best when it comes to curly hair, thoughtfulness and a caring touch! Even though I have moved to White Plains, NY now, I will make sure to drive the extra miles to see Luvena at her new salon.

But the Dominicans are the best when it comes to doing the Doobie.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on September 5, 2011  7:04pm

In her three years at the Jo Bruno Salon on Whitney Avenue, Leslie earned a reputation as a popular and effervescent stylist with an expertise in handling curly and wavy locks.

I forgot the black woman are the best stylist with an expertise in handling locks.

posted by: Anais on September 6, 2011  3:31am

Congratulations to Diana & Luvena! I am very proud of you ladies.May God Bless you both and bring you lots of success in your new journey. I am honored to say that i have had the pleasure of meeting these ladies personally and they are great mothers,wife,  best of friends, and a great team. I look forward to seeing you ladies grow. I will be coming down soon. Love ya <3 <3

posted by: Darceylynn on September 8, 2011  7:26pm

I saw this article earlier this week and stopped in today to make an appointment. I cannot wait to try her out!