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A look inside the Base Coat salon in downtown L.A.'s Arts District.

Fashion brands the likes of Shinola, Frankie and Apolis have discovered downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District, and now budding nail salon chain Base Coat has decided to locate there as well.

Established three years ago in Denver, Base Coat’s journey to the rising neighborhood where creative types are filling empty industrial spaces, is the beginning of realizing a broader vision of geographic growth. After the Arts District salon launches on Nov. 15, it will open second units in L.A. and Denver before looking beyond those two cities.

“We would love to expand nationally,” said Ali Elman, who founded Base Coat with Tran Wills and Sarah Simon. “Sometimes business owners get too excited about what’s on the horizon, and they don’t focus on what’s in front of them. For us, it’s really, really key that we take the time to do it right in California and Colorado, and then move on from there.”

As a company dedicated to non-toxic nail products and fair wages for nail technicians, Base Coat is somewhat of a pioneer in the nail-salon segment and, as such, it isn’t afraid to be a pioneer in the areas it enters. On Mateo Street in the Arts District, modern-day general store Good Liver is the only other active operation on the block that houses its salon.

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“We are hoping to be the focal point of this part of the Arts District,” said Elman. “We need to feel that wherever we go aligns with the kind of brand that we are. We feel we are edgy and different, and the neighborhoods we are going into have to reflect that.”

The 1,800-square-foot salon contains a bar, outdoor patio, spacious retail section and eight manicure and seven pedicure stations. The subsequent location on tap for L.A., which will be on Fairfax Avenue near Melrose Avenue, will be 900 square feet. It will have just as many manicure and pedicure stations, although will lack the bar, patio and roomy retail set-up.

In Stapleton, where Base Coat is planting an 850-square-foot unit, Elman described an eclectic, emerging Denver community. “People living in Denver proper are getting pushed out because the prices are skyrocketing, and pockets surrounding Denver are starting to become very cool developments. Artists that can’t afford to be in Denver are moving outward and putting their stamps on these neighborhoods, and that’s what we are going to be a part of there,” she said.

Base Coat’s salons are designed to be bright and airy. The color scheme centers on brass, gold, black and white, but it’s tweaked for each setting. “In Denver, we have a lot more black and pops of gold. In the Arts District, we have a lot of white with pops of black,” said Elman. “Our services are never going to change and our non-toxic philosophy is never going to change, but, in different cities, we might incorporate more of a local style and vibe.”

For health-conscious consumers, Base Coat offers an alternative to standard nail salons. That’s exactly what Wills sought when she came up with the concept while pregnant. “She couldn’t find a place to get her nails done that didn’t have intense smells. She would go into a salon and couldn’t stand it and thought, ‘Why isn’t there a safer option in this industry?’” said Elman. “As consumers are becoming more aware of the chemicals they put on their body and the fair treatment of employees, they find those are things we take very seriously. To us, it’s not a trend. It’s our core values.”

Base Coat relies on its own nail polishes at its salons that avoid dibutyl phthalate, toluene, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene and parabens. Currently the products account for 10 percent of Base Coat’s revenues, but Elman is aiming to boost that figure by increasing their wholesale distribution. Polishes are priced at $20 each, and nail services range from $15 to $60. “Our products are essential oil-based, and we make sure what is listed in them is what is actually being used. We are not just throwing anything on anyone,” said Elman. “The service prices are a reflection of what we are paying our nail technicians.”

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