Because this site focuses on news, businesses that have been around awhile—and that make this neighborhood special—don’t get the coverage they should. The photographs for the “Spotlight” series are by Claudine Williams, who specializes in head shots for actors, business professionals, or anyone looking to be photographed. She also dabbles in street photography for fun. Originally from Philadelphia, she has made NYC her home for the past seven years with her husband and son.
“The surprise is that even as Tribeca has grown so much, it has still remained a community of families,” says Lance Lappin, who founded the Lance Lappin Salon with his wife, Ivy, back in 1985. (They’ve lived here since around that time, too.) “We feel such a sense of community,” adds Ivy. “We’ve watched kids go from the baby chair to a booster chair to the big chair. They come for prom hair, graduation hair, then wedding hair. Then they bring their kids in. It’s a privilege.”
How did you get started in this business?
Lance: Back in the 1970s, we were living in California, and I saw a sign for “Introduction to Acting and the Male Image” at the unemployment office. It was one of those pull-the-tag-off signs. I wasn’t all that interested in acting, but that’s what you do when you’re unemployed in Southern California. One night a woman came in and described how she styled hair for film, theater, and so on. I had the “aha!” moment. This is what I should do! I was looking for something creative, a way to work with my hands. I could work with artists, writers, and actors. And, literally, what you see here now is what I saw in that moment. I went home and told Ivy, “Let’s be hairdressers!” I was driving a meat truck! It was completely out of left field. So we moved back east. We were done in California. New York City—where we’re both from—is the best of everything, and everybody in California had long blond hair. What was I going to learn there?
Ivy: I worked as an admin in the textile business while Lance apprenticed at the David Daines Salon uptown. He spent five to six years at that salon. The deal was he’d go to school, then I’d go. He decided that he wanted to open his own place.
When did you open this salon? Why here?
Ivy: We opened on November 23, 1985. We thought we’d open on the Upper West Side, where we lived at the time, until we went to a party here. It was at the Acute Café, where the HSBC across the street is now. The cab driver actually told us he couldn’t go farther than Canal, so we had to walk the rest of the way. We know better now!
Lance: I remember walking past the American Thread Building and climbing over the low fence where Tribeca Park is now. It wasn’t a park then, just a traffic island. And then we saw all these little old buildings. It was this valley of beautifulness. I heard the music!
You’re susceptible to these moments….
Lance: I am!
Ivy: He is.
Lance: She’s not. We met with she was 12, I was 13, and she knew immediately but it took me 10 years. She had morals and integrity and that wasn’t what I wanted at that time.
Ivy: As soon as we saw the area, we were sold. We had never been down here. And we grew up in New York!
Lance: It was a small art community, and we were free to create anything we wanted.
What is the salon known for? What distinguishes it?
Lance: Consistency of experience. We have clients who have been coming for 40 years, since we started uptown. It’s the same experience every time. Also, attention to detail. To listening with all five senses.
I’m having a vision of you licking the client.
Ivy: Well, they do bring food!
Lance: You really do share energy with anyone who sits in that chair. They lower their defensive shield and let us into their sacred space. We want people to feel their inner beauty, to make them feel as beautiful as they know they are. And it doesn’t matter what they physically look like. When I’m finished and I show them their hair, I watch their eyes closely. If it’s not in the eyes, or if their hands go up to the hair—and not in a good way—I know we’re not done.
What’s the most satisfying part of what you do?
Ivy: We feel such a sense of community. We’ve watched kids go from the baby chair to a booster chair to the big chair. They come for prom hair, graduation hair, then wedding hair. Then they bring their kids in. It’s a privilege.
Lance: Our first son was born three months after we opened. It has always been important for us to have a place where the whole family can come. Your kid gets his hair cut by person who cuts your hair.
Tribeca has obviously changed a lot. Any changes that have surprised you?
Lance: In the 80s, it was a similar version of what it is now—the surprise is that even as it has grown so much, it has still remained a community of families. I remember walking over to the river one afternoon and coming upon Washington Market Park and seeing all these families hanging out. I couldn’t wait to tell Ivy. It’s like Mayberry here! That makes me Floyd, but I’m OK with that.
How has your business changed?
Lance: The original concept was to be a boutique, too, which we had for a while. When we first opened, we sold clothes, jewelry…. Ultimately, we kept the focus on what we love—cutting and color—but we still occasionally have these wonderful distractions.
Ivy: Now and then we have a sale: different artists, jewelers, fashion designers. We’ve had art and photography displayed on the wall. People love it.
What percentage of your business is local?
Ivy: At least 50%.
Lance: But we pull from everywhere. When we opened, we became uptown for Brooklyn Heights. One of the great things about this area is that all the trains come here. Anyone can get here.
Tell me a crazy customer story.
This was actually back when I was still working uptown. An older woman walked in on a busy Thursday night. She was anywhere from mid-50s to early 70s; she had long dark hair and she was wearing a white Spandex top. It was August, so her usual salon across the street was closed. Let me tell you: If I took any less off, I wouldn’t have been giving her a haircut. I was blow-drying her hair, and halfway through, she belts out, “You ****ing ********er! You scumbag *****! Look what you did to me! You made me look like an old lady!” And she went on for like five minutes: “You ****ing *****!” Everything went quiet. I managed to finish her, and she headed downstairs. The receptionist was about to tell her she looked fabulous, and the client cut her off: “You’re the ****ing ********er who gave me that *****!” And it went on…. I went out to the backyard, where there was a deck. My boss came out, too. I apologized and told him I’d leave. He just looked at me, then shook my hand and said, “Welcome to the club, my friend. You’ve been initiated.” And then he told me about his first crazy client.
Is he the guy at the grill counter? He’s amazing! He knows my order even though I only go every couple of months.
Lance: Yes! He’s amazing! When I think about leaving the neighborhood, I think, How can I leave Morgan’s? I also love Salaam Bombay for the lunch buffet.
Ivy: And we can’t forget Sole di Capri!
What does the future hold for Lance Lappin Salon?
Ivy: That’s anybody’s guess. Thirty years went by in one minute. We’re just hoping to do this till we’re done.
Lance: After 9/11, a voice told me to just keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll be fine. And it’s worked. I’m going to stay here till my arms fall off.
Previously in this series:
••• Joseph Carini Carpets
••• A Uno
••• Balloon Saloon
••• Fountain Pen Hospital
••• Chambers Pottery
••• Square Diner
••• Langdon Florist
••• Tribeca Upholstery & Draperies
••• Double Knot
••• Philip Williams Posters