It took a certain amount of courage for Roya Dowlatabadi, the new owner of Sleek Salon in Wellesley Hills, to leave behind years of success running her own business in Boston’s Financial District and make the move to the suburbs. Although she lives in the Metrowest area, the hair stylist felt like she didn’t have a handle on the culture of this area.
In Boston, Roya’s clients were mostly business people who commuted to the office five days a week. Her base wanted to show up to work looking polished and professional, and they didn’t want their roots to show before important meetings. Business was great back in the pre-pandemic days when the Financial District still bustled with in-person activity.
But once COVID hit and Boston’s business elite transferred their moving and shaking from the boardroom to Zoom, it began to seem unlikely that Roya would once more have a full schedule of in-city clients.
One of her regulars told her about Sleek Salon, and how the owner at that time was not only looking to rent a chair, but perhaps wanted to transfer the business altogether, to the right person. Roya wasn’t sure about the idea, but the longer the pandemic lasted, the better a big change sounded. It was time to face facts.
“Finally I convinced myself I have to move on, I have to do something because I cannot survive like this,” Roya said. “I had to accept it. I can’t change destiny, sometimes it is out of our control.”
She left Boston and made the move to Wellesley. First on her agenda as a Sleek employee was to figure out the culture of the area. Turns out her new clients wanted pretty much the same thing as her city clients—regular cuts so as to avoid that shaggy dog look, custom color, and modern dos for special occasions like weddings and prom. Within a year she decided to take on ownership of the business. Things have gone so well that she’s currently looking to rent out a booth in the salon, or hire a stylist.
Roya now has more than ever in common with her clients—the positive lifestyle change that comes with reduced daily travel. “I don’t miss the commute all the way to Boston, ” she says. “Not at all.”
From the Hills to the Square
Empty storefronts are starting to fill up in Wellesley as business owners gain confidence that customers are once again willing to re-enter the world of in-person dining, shopping, and self-care. Just a few examples: Laughing Monk, an imaginative Thai cuisine spot, is expected to open soon in Wellesley Square, and La Toscano Pizzeria has opened at the former Upper Crust space; Home Decor Group opened in Wellesley Hills in March, and Jejes Coffeehouse is coming to that end of town in late spring or early summer; and Oath Pizza and Tatte Bakery are moving forward with renovations in preparation for their grand openings (soon!) in the Linden Square complex.
This flurry of activity has come about in part to to the town’s efforts to take a more collaborative approach in working with both business owners and property owners to fill vacancies. According to Amy Frigulietti, Wellesley’s Assistant Executive Director, the town has been addressing roadblocks to filling empty storefronts within its jurisdiction, such as licensing and permitting. “We’re thrilled that momentum from the storefront art project the Town supported last year is continuing this spring, with the Wellesley Society of Artists exhibit at Webster Bank. Overall we feel good about the current interest in our commercial districts, and the Town will see several new retailers and restaurants moving into our vacant storefronts soon,” she said.