Local relies on Tahoe City roots to grow full-service Salon Bella Vita
Special to the Sun
TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Armed with steel shears, a black nylon cape and a colorful palette of hair-dye swatches, Tiana O’Neal has the power to change one’s self-image and confidence in a couple hours’ time.
“One of the best things about being in this business is watching a client leave feeling better about themselves than when they walked in,” O’Neal said between cuts at Salon Bella Vita in Tahoe City’s Cobblestone Center. “Even the smallest change can make a big difference in the way someone feels.”
Though hair fads are constantly changing in conjunction with the culture and fashion of the time, O’Neal knows the one trend that remains deeply rooted in the business of hair: A fresh cut is always in style.
“I tried a ton of different careers before I started doing hair like getting my realtors license and being a Pilates instructor, but those are luxury markets — especially Pilates — which seemed like the first thing people gave up when times got tough,” O’Neal said. “I knew I wanted to own my own business, but I wanted it to be a service that people would always need no matter what, and I feel like I’ve finally figured out what that is.”
TRIMMING BACK THE JOB PROSPECTS
O’Neal was born and raised in Tahoe City, where she attended North Tahoe High until the second semester of her senior year, when she graduated early to expedite her departure for college in San Diego.
“I went to college thinking I was going to be a physical therapist, but my school didn’t have a physical therapy program, so I guess I chose wrong, but I loved the college I went to, so I decided to get my degree in business instead,” O’Neal said in her characteristically soft-spoken and poised tone.
With a bachelor’s in business, O’Neal bee-lined it back to her home base in Tahoe City, her sights still set on a career in physical therapy.
“I was working as an assistant at a physical therapy office, and I loved it, but I knew I’d have to go back to school to become a physical therapist and at that point, I wasn’t willing to move out of Tahoe again,” she said.
THE ‘MANE’ SQUEEZE
The lure of the lake played into her desire to plant permanent roots, but it was the lure of new love found in an old friend that ultimately sealed the deal in O’Neal’s decision to reinstate her local status.
“I’ve known him for pretty much my whole life and we were actually best friends in high school,” O’Neal said of her now-husband, Kyle O’Neal. “We lost touch for a little bit in college, but we came back together as soon as I got home and we started dating right away.”
In a tone of deep-rooted affection and tenderness, she added, “Being friends first definitely made our relationship that much stronger.”
A newfound flame between the familiar couple effortlessly grew into a steadfast relationship, giving O’Neal a taste of the stability she was craving in her career as well.
In a leap of faith, O’Neal decided to enroll at the Paul Mitchell Academy in Reno, where she began paving the road for her future business.
“I knew I didn’t want to leave Tahoe, and Paul Mitchell was close enough that I could still live at the lake and commute to school, which was actually much harder than I thought, but it was worth it for me to live at the lake,” the honey-blonde, mountain-town native said.
A CUT ABOVE
After completing her cosmetology degree in one year, O’Neal landed a six-month apprenticeship at Salon Bella Vita, after which she was offered a chair at the contemporary, cutting-edge salon.
“After the apprenticeship, I worked as a contracted stylist for another six months and then ended up buying the business, which was great because I was already learning the ins and outs of the salon, and of doing hair,” she said. “I got to know all the girls as colleagues and friends first before becoming the owner, and I think that really helped me with the transition.”
It’s been three years since she claimed ownership of the contemporary boutique, but her entrepreneurial endeavor isn’t the only thing she’s nursing nowadays.
With the business operating as smooth as deep-conditioner, the O’Neal’s welcomed their first-born baby girl into the world just seven months ago.
“We both own our own businesses, which isn’t easy as new parents, but we’re learning as we go,” she said. “We feel so lucky to have both of our families close by to help us out, and it’s amazing to be able to raise our daughter in the community that we both grew up in.”
Jenny Goldsmith is a North Tahoe-based freelance writer and a former reporter for the Sierra Sun newspaper. Have an idea for a merchant to feature? Email her at email@example.com.
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As COVID restrictions continue to rollback nationwide, tourism has started up again and is in full swing around Lake Tahoe.