A Cut Above the Rest

Sulimay’s Studio on Main offers high-end services with a family-friendly atmosphere.
By Megan Douress • Photos by Melissa Kelly Photography (melissakellyphotography.com)

Since 2014, Sulimay’s Studio on Main has been welcoming clients and families of all ages into their quaint salon. Upon entering 4233 Main Street, you’re guaranteed to be greeted with a warm smile, a cold beverage, and sometimes, even a hug — similar to walking into a family member’s home. For owner Tara Sulimay Acosta, treating customers like family has always been part of her business plan.

“My great-grandfather was a barber, my grandfather was a barber, my father was a barber, and I chimed in with my dad about 22 years ago,” Tara explained of her family history in the industry.

Tara’s grandfather opened Tony’s Barbershop at 29th and Lehigh Streets long before Tara was even born. Tara’s father followed in his dad’s footsteps when he opened Jimmy Sulimay’s Barber Shop at 24th and Brown Streets in 1962. Thirty-five years later, Tara attended cosmetology school at Jean Madeline Aveda Institute and joined the family business.

“I wasn’t always interested in the industry — I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” Tara laughed. “I would’ve loved to get into fashion design — it’s definitely a love of mine.

Instead of attending college, Tara’s father influenced her to go to cosmetology school with the hope that Tara would take over one day. At the age of 75, nearly 20 years later, he was ready to retire. It’s been 22 years since Tara took over her dad’s barber shop in Fairmount, but the transition from a one-chair barbershop into a salon wasn’t easy.

“It was a barbershop for all these years and women were like, ‘We can’t go there. It’s a barbershop!’ while the men were saying, ‘What are they doing here?’” Tara laughed. “My friends would brave it and come in.”

Tara isn’t the only one who took the family business and evolved it into what it is today. She has a handful of cousins who took the same career path, with Sulimay family-owned salons in Fishtown, Huntington Valley, and Chalfont. Tara’s daughter, Cianna, is also a graduate of Jean Madeline and works at both the Manayunk and Fairmount locations. So, how does she make her Manayunk location, now in its fourth year of operation, stand out upon her family-friendly competition?

“We try to make it a fun experience but also a comfortable experience,” Tara explained. “We’re therapists — absolutely. If someone’s having a bad day, we try to promote a positive outlook or a positive attitude. When clients leave, they have their hair done and that’s a great feeling as it is. It’s a boost — when you look better, you feel better. We’re a safe space that people find mentally enlightening.”
Tara credits the extra personal experience of her clients to her staff, who she said she found by “pure luck.”

“I have a great team,” Tara said. “That’s key. They’re all passionate, professional, talented, and fun!”

Tara has high standards for the stylists she brings in, most of which are also graduates of Jean Madeline. They are certified in Sassoon, MAC Makeup, Master Colorist, Brazilian Blowout, Hot Heads & Hair Talk Extensions, and Lavish Lashes, while the colorists specialize in balayage, blonding, grey coverage, and multi-dimensional color. However, high-end services don’t imply a high-end salon for Sulimay’s Studio on Main — Tara and her team like to keep the salon a comfortable place for clients of all ages to enjoy.

“Men and women feel very comfortable coming in,” Tara said. “It’s not just the boys club and we’re not a pink, frilly place. It’s a cool environment. Families of all ages are welcome.”

Tara and her team keep a loyal customer base by being consistent. For example, they keep all of their clients’ color formulas on file, which is especially important for those who get grey coverage every three to four weeks.

“You don’t want to mess with that,” Tara said. “You want it to look seamless and match their natural color.”

“We’re trained to listen and hear what our customers want, and even provide a spin on what they want if they’re open to it so we can customize to that person,” Tara continued. “We don’t want everyone to have the same hair color or cut.”

Tara provides her team with a monthly educational program from September through June in order to stay up to date with the latest styles and trends. For those looking to update their look this fall, expect darker tones and bangs.

“We’ll link with one of our product lines and they bring us the newest trends before they come out,” Tara said. “Some are amazing and some we roll our eyes at like, ‘Who’s going to get that!?’ But we have the tools in case anyone comes in and asks for it. It does happen and we get really excited when they do!”

It’s that kind of excitement that makes the staff at Sulimay’s Studio on Main stand out above the rest. Tara’s team of stylists is willing to do anything for their customers if it means they go home happy, from trying out the latest styles, to sharing inspirational quotes over wine, and even bonding over their favorite artist that plays over the speaker while your color settles in. Sound like your kind of salon? Sulimay’s Studio on Main is always welcoming new clients.

“This industry can be really competitive and I don’t think it’s necessary,” Tara said. “I really stress teamwork. My staff is down to earth and love what they do — and they’re good at it.”