Skip to main content

Pulaski salon reopens with fresh look, new location after fire

Tree trimming accident destroyed A Kut Above, several private residences

share arrow printer bookmark flag

February 6, 2024

PULASKI — There are bad hair days, and then there’s what happened to Dawn Tooley-Sinnaeve last fall.

On Sept. 14 of last year, while working at her Pulaski salon, A Kut Above, Tooley-Sinnaeve said what happened seemed, at first, little more than a power outage as she and fellow stylist Sara Dimick were working with clients.

The only inconvenience Tooley-Sinnaeve said she and Dimick anticipated from the outage was needing to cancel that afternoon’s appointments due to the lack of electricity.

Knowing a tree-cutting service had been working behind the salon, Tooley-Sinnaeve said she opened the salon’s backdoor and confirmed an errant tree branch had downed a power line.

She said the workers warned her not to come outside due to the electrical risk, so she went back inside to continue calling clients to reschedule.

Sudden tragedy
Within 10-20 minutes, Tooley-Sinnaeve said, “you could hear what sounded like popcorn — like a campfire crackle.”

“My first thought was, ‘oh, Sara is making popcorn’ — but I realized that wasn’t happening because there was no power,” she said.

At that point Tooley-Sinnaeve said she glanced through the windows of the door leading to her back storeroom, revealing the worst nightmare of any passionate business owner — a blazing fire.

“By the time we saw that, we turned around to call 9-1-1 and looked up, and it was like a fog machine on Halloween,” she said. “Smoke was already rolling through the ceilings at that point.”

Fearing a possible explosion, Tooley-Sinnaeve said she and Dimick grabbed their purses, their books and “whatever was right there” and ran out of the building’s front door.

“Hindsight says I wish I would have grabbed my Dyson hairdryer,” she said, “But at that point, you’re thinking ‘get the heck out.'”

Sheer perseverance
Tooley-Sinnaeve said she first got into her profession when she opened A Kut Above 23 years ago.

Over that time, she said she had built up clientele in Pulaski and beyond, leading her to move her salon to a more suitable second location, where she said she had been operating for the past six years.

Witnessing the destruction both during and after the fire, Tooley-Sinnaeve said, was an “out of body” experience.

“I didn’t even know what to think — I was in such shock watching it,” she said. “It was heart-wrenching. Six years of my life, and everything I worked for, were gone.”

Julie Baranczyk, left, Dawn Tooley-Sinnaeve, center, and Sara Dimick are excited to welcome clients to the new A Kut Above location. Matthew Day Photo

In the days after the fire, Tooley-Sinnaeve said she experienced trouble sleeping — overloaded with thoughts.

She said she would often try to channel her restlessness into productivity, imagining every part of her former salon and cataloging a list of all the supplies, equipment, furniture and every other item she lost to the fire, as part of her insurance claim.

Though her mind would race, Tooley-Sinnaeve said one thought never occurred to her — quitting.

“Oh, heck no — there was no doing anything else,” she said. “This is what I love. The camaraderie and the family we’ve built here — there was no way I was not going to have that again.”

Tooley-Sinnaeve said beyond her determination, she benefited from incredible support from others.

“The amount of cards and help I got from people in this community and family and friends — it was overwhelming and humbling,” she said. “I guess you don’t realize your part in everything — you do what you love, and when something like (the fire) happens, you see the impact you’ve maybe made on people.”

Tooley-Sinnaeve said some of the greatest generosity she received was from Krakow, an unincorporated community just north of Pulaski.

She said she was desperate for a new space to service not only her clients but those of the two stylists who worked out of A Kut Above — Dimick, as well as Julie Baranczyk.

Tooley-Sinnaeve said Baranczyk, who happened to be on vacation at the time of the fire, made the vital move of calling Kathy Gohr to ask if the three displaced stylists could temporarily work out of Gohr’s Salon 32 in Krakow.

Gohr willingly agreed, Tooley-Sinnaeve said, adding that she had just happened to meet Gohr a mere two weeks prior.

“Kathy — she was a godsend to let us three come in there, and bust down her doors and work there with her and have that place to go in between,” she said.

Tooley-Sinnaeve said thanks to Gohr’s immediate generosity, Dimick was able to service clients at the Krakow salon as soon as the day after the fire.

All three stylists from A Kut Above, Tooley-Sinnaeve said, were soon operating there.

She said Gohr took them in with no formal discussion of a timeline or rent agreement needed — rather graciously accommodated the sudden shift of the dynamic at her salon.

“We came in like a hurricane,” she said. “All three of us have similar personalities, and we’re boisterous and like to have fun, and so does (Gohr), but she had been there 11 years by herself. But we made it work, and I thank God we had that.”

Recovering, remodeling, reopening
While temporarily relocated at Salon 32, Tooley-Sinnaeve said she began her search for a new location for A Kut Above almost immediately.

“Everybody said, ‘I can’t believe how fast out of the gate you came,'” she said.

Though Tooley-Sinnaeve said the relative size of Pulaski meant there weren’t too many new buildings to consider, and within four days after the fire, she was inspecting a vacant building — not just to lease or rent, but to buy.

The building at 118 West Pulaski St., Tooley-Sinnaeve said, had previously been a pizza restaurant, a sandwich shop, a flower store and a dog-grooming salon.

She said its roof had collapsed from the straight-line winds that impacted the region in 2019, leaving it in disrepair for several weeks, which she said left her concerned about the interior.

Additionally, she said the building had only about two-thirds the square footage of her former location.

Adding urgency to her emotional state, stress and contemplation, Tooley-Sinnaeve said the building was drawing serious interest from other prospective buyers, and she was at serious risk of missing out on the purchase.

It was at this point, she said, that she finally broke down.

“We had 24 hours to make a decision, and if we didn’t get it, where were we going to go?” she said. “And we ended up getting it.”

Tooley-Sinnaeve said she signed her papers for the building Oct. 13 — not even a month after the fire — and her husband drew up a plan for remodeling the new space, which required an entire gutting.

Taking the opportunity of owning a building, she said, was “a positive out of the whole thing” — which meant she could make it better represent her personality.

Tooley-Sinnaeve said she also appreciated a chance to change the salon’s appearance in a way that wouldn’t remind her of what she had lost.

She said the goal for the remodel was ambitiously set to have A Kut Above operational for the Christmas season.

Tooley-Sinnaeve said she had even bought new Christmas decorations in anticipation but ultimately decided to officially reopen Jan. 5 — 111 days after purchasing the building.

Dawn Tooley-Sinnaeve said the salon — which reopened at its new location 111 days after she purchased the building — offers haircuts, stylings, colorings, manicures and pedicures. Matthew Day Photo

With her husband leading the effort, Tooley-Sinnaeve said they would work all day at their respective jobs, have dinner and try and spend time with their dogs, before heading to the building to work on the remodel — most nights until 11 or 12.

“My family and friends were a crucial part in making this all happen within that time frame (we had),” she said. “If we had had to hire it out, working on other people’s schedules, we probably still wouldn’t be here yet.”

Tooley-Sinnaeve said the grand reopening, held last month, was a success.

She said A Kut Above’s business has returned to pre-fire levels and she’s enjoying providing Pulaski haircuts, stylings, colorings, manicures and pedicures more than ever before.

“I loved my old building, but I enjoy being at my new building now and having my home back,” she said. “My husband says, ‘you’re always there.’ And I say, ‘well, I’m sorry, but you did such a good job at making it nice for me.'”

Tooley-Sinnaeve said a few useful and sentimental items did survive the fire — which now adorn her new salon, including a photograph since re-matted and hung, a set of discontinued, “gold”-like brush rollers for setting hair and a horseshoe found beneath the floorboards during a remodel of A Kut Above’s previous location.

She said she admits the implied luck of the horseshoe didn’t help with the fire, though she feels incredibly fortunate no one was physically injured or worse.

Tooley-Sinnaeve said the catastrophe forced her to learn how strong she was.

“There was no option to not succeed or not be back here,” she said. “It was just persevering through it all and making the best of each day that came, and what came in my way.”

Tooley-Sinnaeve said she’s also grateful to understand, should tragedy require it, just how strongly she could lean on others.

“I already knew (Pulaski) was a great town to be a part of, but I just learned how great,” she said. “The outpouring of support and how that was given… I’m just thankful to be here and have this place. I just want the community and friends and family to know how much of a part of this they were.”

Visit A Kut Above’s Facebook page for more information, or schedule an appointment.

share arrow printer bookmark flag