Hard Work Pays Off for River Street Hair Salon

ZenaRose celebrated its fifth anniversary over this July 4 weekend after posting their biggest sales to date last month, but no one could ever accuse this River Street hair salon, or its owner, of not paying their dues first.

Marina Melnikova, the salon’s owner and style director, was born in Magadan, Siberia, in the 1980s and immigrated to the U.S. in 1999. She studied at Parsons School of Design and the Aveda Institute in New York, but after going to school and few years afterwards of working at salons there, she decided she was ready to leave the fast pace of Manhattan behind. After relocating here to Boston in 2009, Melnikova started off sweeping salon floors before working her way up the ranks and, she said, getting an education in hair styling along the way.

In 2013, Melnikova decided to go out on her own and established ZenaRose, working out of her car to deliver her hair-styling services to clients at their homes. She eventually grew her client list to around 300 (most of whom still continue to see her) by going to such lengths as once making a 3 a.m. house call for a blowout.

When it came time to open an actual brick-and-mortar location, Melnikova started off looking at spaces in Brookline and Newton, which were closer to her home. Then, she “accidentally stumbled” into the River Street space, she said, and since many of her clients were living on Beacon Hill and in Back Bay, it was a convenient location for that reason.

ZenaRose is named for both of Melnikova’s grandmothers – Zena, who worked in nature conservatism in Siberia in the 1940s at a time when women weren’t expected to have careers, and Rose, who worked as a seamstress in Soviet Russia in the 1950s and ‘60s.

And like both Zena and Rose, Melnikova was herself a single mother when she opened the salon.

Framed photos of Melnikova’s family members, including both of her grandmothers, as well as her parents, are prominently displayed throughout the salon, as are family photos from the salon’s business manager, as well as Melnikova’s right-hand woman, Carolyn Shultz.

“We try to keep the Beacon Hill feel [with the family photos] because it represents history and reminds us of where we came from,” said Melnikova.

ZenaRose prides itself on being, as Shultz puts it, “very much a girl’s salon,” offering a full range of cuts, and colors, among other hair and makeup options. Melnikova, along with ZenaRose, was also named the winner of Boston Magazine’s Best of Boston 2018 in the category of Best Blowout.

“A lot of guys come in, too, which is surprising,” said Melnikova, who added that many of them first come into the salon with their wives, and as an incentive for male customers, ZenaRose offers them free trims.

“What makes us different,” she said, “is we try to be creative.”

The salon also offers photo shoots and headshots. “We’re kind of a jack of all trades, really,” said Shultz.

ZenaRose’s welcoming atmosphere has also made it a popular spot for clients and neighbors just to drop by to say hello.

“We have lot of locals who pop in just to chat or have a glass of wine,” said Melnikova.

In fact, ZenaRose had become so successful at its original 300 square-foot space at 49 River St. by February of 2020, that Melnikova signed a lease to expand into the adjacent 1,000 square-foot storefront at 45 River St. She planned to completely renovate the space, but before work could get underway, the state’s restrictions surrounding the pandemic temporarily shut the salon down.

After reopening last June, they had a soft opening for the addition on Aug. 8 during the height of pandemic, which drew about 15 socially distanced and masked guests and included a fashion show with models, all donning masks made by Melnikova, walking a grass runaway in the then-empty and unadorned space.

The addition eventually opened for business last October, bringing the salon, which began with one station at 49 River St. before expanding to two stations there, to a total of seven hair-styling stations and one make-up station.

Meanwhile, ZenaRose  “made a substantial amount” in gift-card sales at the beginning of the shutdown, said Shultz, as loyal patrons stepped up to help the business survive this precarious time. The salon sold out all the hair products they had in stock within two weeks as well.

During the first week of April of last year, the salon also introduced to the marketplace its ZR Labs hair-coloring kits for at-home applications, with three options – Root Touch-Up (which retails for $75), Gloss, and Conditioning. For each order, clients answer a series of three or four questions about their hair to customize the orders for them, and Melnikova also includes a complimentary Skype session with each kit to walk them through the process. 

To date, they’ve sold around 200 kits, and people from as far away as Texas and California who have never even set foot inside ZenaRose have purchased the kits after seeing them posted on Instagram and featured on NBC10 Boston in May of 2020. 

ZR Labs kits, which are available via the product’s website at https://www.zrlabs.co, have proven particularly popular with clients headed out on vacations, said Shultz.

Weddings, which tallied about 60 to 70 each year in pre-pandemic times, have traditionally accounted for a large portion of ZenaRose’s income, so they were left in the lurch last summer when 40 events on their books were postponed.

“We had five last summer, which was unheard of,” said Shultz. “It was a huge blow to us.”

Some clients opted to have “micro-weddings” instead last summer, said Shultz, and for these events, Melnikova helped talk the brides-to-be through hair and makeup treatments on their wedding days via Skype.

Typically, however, Melnikova and Shultz travel to the weddings themselves, which have included nuptials throughout New England, as well as in Puerto Rico and Spain, to provide their services in person.

Meanwhile, ZenaRose has more than doubled its staff since reopening last June, going from four to 10 full-time staffers.

“We’ve come back tenfold,” said Shultz. “We’re the busiest we’ve ever been. It’s wild.”

Visit ZenaRose online at zenarose.com or call the salon at 857-991-1680.

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