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Pamperin Salon & Spa: Where creativity and history meet

Downtown La Crosse salon located in historic tobacco building

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May 27, 2024

LA CROSSE – Britt Henze said ever since she was a kid, if she decided she wanted to do something, she stuck with it.

By second grade, Henze said she decided she wanted to become a cosmetologist – and as she said, it stuck.

With 12 years of cosmetology experience under her belt, Henze now owns Pamperin Salon & Spa in La Crosse.

The journey to owning her salon in a historic building in the area, she said, has been a difficult but rewarding one. 

While in beauty school, Henze said she had no intention of owning her own salon once she was finished – being in the industry was enough for her.

“(In school,) we had to make a business plan, and I thought to myself, ‘I never want to open a salon. This is so much work,’” she said. “I was an employee for years.”

Fast forward to 2020 when Henze said one of her friends approached her about renting a chair at her salon.

“I told her I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to work and then not be able to just go home and turn it off and be a mom,” she said. “But… I was not happy where I was at and wasn’t able to get the clients I wanted (at my current position at that time).”

That, Henze said, is when she decided to take a leap of faith – little did she know it was a move that would eventually change her outlook on becoming her own boss.

“I saved up $2,000 in tips and had maybe four clients I knew would come with me, and then, I opened up my own chair, which was called Britt Did My Hair,” she said. “Over the two years I did that, I grew from four clients to about 400.”

Even though her business was booming, Henze said the space she was in didn’t allow for much growth or inspiration, which led her to search for different opportunities.

“It was a tiny little secluded loft,” she said. “And I liked decorating things, so I had already covered every wall in there and had repainted and… felt like there wasn’t much (room for) growth.”

Every day on her way into the small salon, Henze said she walked by a property she thought would be great for a boutique and salon. 

When her rent began to fluctuate at the salon she was at, she said she decided to see what else was out there – starting with that property she walked by so many times before.

“I remembered one of my friends from high school, her sister had a store below there, so I asked who the owners were, and (they) ended up being her parents,” she said. “I got their numbers, and I contacted them and asked, ‘are you ever going to rent that space out?’”

Henze said she then took a tour of the space, which she was “very pumped about.”

Some of the original aspects of the historic tobacco company remain in the salon, such as this sign in the bridal lounge. Photo Courtesy of Pamperin Salon & Spa

However, with a steep rent of $3,000 a month, she said she knew she would have to put in additional chairs for other stylists to rent out.

But for whatever reason, Henze said something inside her was telling her to do it.

After gaining approval of her business plan from the owners, receiving a Main Street Bounce Back grant and spending two months preparing the space, Henze said she opened Pamperin Salon & Spa (115 2nd St. S.) about two years ago.

A historic touch

Why the name Pamperin Salon & Spa?

Henze said she decided to change the name of her business for a few reasons.

One, “Britt Did My Hair” is a solo name,” and with additional stylists in the building, it wouldn’t best reflect the salon.

Two, the building was formerly a tobacco business known as The Pamperin Tobacco Company, and she said she wanted to pay homage to the history of the space.

“We incorporated the smoke and the tobacco,” she said. “We have the old humidor that was manufactured in La Crosse for Pamperin Tobacco, where they would cure the cigars and dry them out – we have our shampoo and conditioner in there. We have tobacco carts as our coffee bar, and we have the original windows to the building as some decor pieces.”

Henze said it’s the perfect blend of old and new – utilizing the history of the building along with her style and creativity to create a modern glam feel.

“(I) created this fun vibe that is dark and moody but also accents that it was a tobacco factory,” she said. 

Having a business in a historical building, however, can come with its own set of challenges, she said. 

“Being in a historical building has its series of hoops you have to jump through,” she said. “Being on the historical list in downtown La Crosse – they have a whole (board that) has to approve certain things.”

Henze said because of that, “there are some things we cannot change.”

“We have a step in the front, and no matter what, we are grandfathered into having this step,” she said. “I would love to have a ramp for wheelchairs and stuff like that, but it can’t extend over the sidewalk. (It’s) little things you wouldn’t think of.”

Hair services

Each stylist at Pamperin offers a different menu of services.

Henze said she specializes in color – particularly vivid colors and rainbow hair.

“I like doing color corrections – anything that challenges me,” she said. “The whole typical highlights, lowlights, one solid color – it’s boring after 12 years of doing it. Anything that can get my creative brain moving is enjoyable to me.”

Outside of color, Henze said she also does scalp treatments, facial waxing and hair cuts.

“I do curly cuts,” she said. “I think I’m one of three or four curly hair salons in the area.”

Britt Henze said she specializes in vivid colors and rainbow hair. Photo Courtesy of Pamperin Salon & Spa

One of the services some of her stylists offer she doesn’t, she said, is extensions.

Henze said the lower level of Pamperin Salon is used as a bridal lounge.

“It has a speakeasy feel to it – it’s a large area,” she said. “We set up mimosas and cookies and a breakfast bar, and we have the (wedding) party relax as the chairs upstairs are full doing hair and makeup and getting them ready for their wedding.” 

When a wedding party books the bridal package, Henze said they shut down the entire salon and take care of everything – from the breakfast to organizing who’s getting their hair done when and managing time before the party’s next event or when photographers come in.

“I think we have the best bridal stylists and makeup artists on our team,” she said. “I was picky about who I wanted in my salon because (with) it being my happy place, I wasn’t going to allow someone who didn’t want to be there.”

To top it all off, Henze said she has one spa room currently undergoing renovations for an esthetician who will be doing permanent makeup.

Clara Bow

When Henze comes into the salon, she said she brings a special, furry friend along with her – her 11-year-old retired service dog, Clara Bow.

“She is fantastic with people,” she said, “She greets everyone who comes into the salon.”

Clara Bow’s main role at the salon, Henze said, is helping with kids’ haircuts.

“I will have her sit at the base of my chair… so then kids will look down at her,” she said. “There are a lot of times it’s hard to get kids to look down, especially when I’m going to try to get the hairs below their neck… If I can distract them from this new experience of sharp tools around them, it’s best.”

Though helpful with her younger clientele, Henze said Clara Bow makes impressions on all of her clients.

One time, after the COVID-19 pandemic, she said a client came in to get his hair cut, and afterward asked, “can I pet your dog?”

“I said, ‘of course, she’s retired, she’s not working, so anyone can pet her…’” she said. “He was petting her and he got teary-eyed and I (asked), ‘are you okay?’”

Britt Henze’s retired service dog, Clara Bow, helps her at the salon with kids’ cuts – and is always available for pets. Photo Courtesy of Pamperin Salon & Spa

Henze said her client’s response took her by surprise.

“He goes, ‘you know, I realized this is the first time I’ve had affection in more than a year,’” she said. “And to me, I have three kids, so the shutdown was chaos – I was not alone for a single second. But I never thought about the single people and them working from home and don’t have pets – they’re deprived of that love and affection.”

Watching her customer’s demeanor soften, Henze said, made her realize the impact Clara Bow can have on clients.

“He realized, ‘oh, wow, I haven’t had that needed touch from someone…’” she said. “That’s where my dog came in, and she made his day.”

Two years and counting 

Since opening Pamperin Salon two years ago, Henze said she has grown her clientele from 400 to nearly 700.

When it comes down to it, she said it’s important for each of her clients to have a great experience each time they come in – which is why the salon has comfortable chairs, lay-down shampoo bowls and back massagers guests can put behind their chairs.

“I feel, honestly, that anyone can go and get a trim… but it’s about the experience,” she said. “We go above and beyond to make sure we have thought of every step to make sure you have the best experience… (and focus on) every little detail to make sure you’re comfortable and excited to be there.”

To learn more about Pamperin Salon & Spa, visit its Facebook page.

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