Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Northside series.
If you asked Ricky Thrash five years ago what he knew about nails, he might have assumed you meant the kind that go with a hammer.
As a purchaser and renovator of Northside rental properties with his wife, Yvonne, Ricky knows his way around a toolbox.
But nowadays when it comes to nails, Ricky is more likely thinking fingernails or toenails. As a licensed manicurist and co-owner with Yvonne of Ennovy’s Beauty Bar, 118 W. North Street, Thrash has learned to wield a nail file and cuticle nipper with enough finesse that he is establishing a reputation of the Pedi-King of the Northside.
“Women love to get their pedicures from Ricky,” says Yvonne, laughing. “We have smooth jazz playing, offer you a glass of water or Muscato, and give you whatever you need to have a nice pedicure.”
Yvonne Thrash used to travel to Grand Rapids to get her nails done. Photo courtesy Ennoy's Beauty Bar.
“I still have calluses on my hands,” says Ricky, who renovated the salon for its opening in October 2016. “In my natural state, you can give me a piece of wood, a hammer, and a saw. When we rehabbed this building, I felt right at home. I could do that all day and night.
“Then we got done. Now it’s time to do nails. All of a sudden, my nerves just failed me,” he says.
In the light and airy upper salon with its pale gray and purple décor, it’s easy to see how a client would feel at ease. Ricky, 63, retired from Kalamazoo’s Parks and Recreation Department a few years ago. Since he was the first of the couple to retire, he was nominated to get his manicurist license, not an easy sell. Once a person is licensed for two years, they can train a second person. Yvonne still holds a full-time managerial position at Metro Transit.
“Five months of begging and pleading,” says Yvonne. “He said, ‘No, no, no, no, no.’ He did not want to do it, but he did it because it was important to me.”
“I had never painted a nail in my life,” he says.
He recalls his first day in class at Wright’s Beauty Academy. “I was like a deer in the headlights,” he says, finding himself the only man in a class of young women (many recent high school graduates). But Ricky persevered. “When I got into class, everybody was friendly. All the young girls were friendly. Before I knew it, they were just giving me their hands.”
That was four years ago and he’s had a bit of practice since then. “I got it now,” he says. “Women are picky with their nails. I never knew I could be so nervous.
“It’s a lot to learn,” he says. “Some people make it look easy. But it’s an art. It’s truly an art.”
A long-held dream: Be your own beautiful
Opening a nail salon has long been a dream of the Thrashes, particularly for Yvonne, who was willing to drive twice a month to Grand Rapids to have her nails done. As former owners of a janitorial business, the Thrashes feel strongly about cleanliness and order, two qualities that are well-reflected in the planning of their salon where all the beauticians, barbers and manicurists must have proper certification and licensure.
Originally planned as YR Nails Designed, the name was changed to Ennovy’s (Yvonne’s name spelled backward) before opening, and soon took on a life of its own. The North Street building in which the business is located comes with auspicious roots as it is the former office of Dr. Alexander, Kalamazoo’s first black surgeon. The well-known Northside philanthropist often treated for free those who could not afford services, Yvonne says. An added benefit was the building was already handicap accessible, a quality very important to the couple who wanted a business that welcomes diversity.
“We aim to be a one-stop, family-friendly place,” says Yvonne. The Ennovy barbers call the Thrashes Uncle and Aunty. “We are a calm, family-oriented team.”
Since opening, the salon has drawn prominent clientele from across town. Photo courtesy Ennovy's Beauty Bar.
Since opening, the salon has already drawn prominent clientele from around town, including doctors, lawyers, and Western Michigan University coaches, among others. Dr. Edward Montgomery, WMU’s new president, chose Ennovy’s for his first Kalamazoo haircut.
“All our clients are important to us, whether they hold a title or not,” says Yvonne. “We treat everyone with dignity and respect.”
The building houses a lower-level barbershop, young manicurist station (for the couple’s two granddaughters), T-shirt print shop, and braiding salon, with upstairs manicure/pedicure stations, facial spa and hair salon.
When Yvonne and Ricky speak about Ennovy, however, it’s less about potential profit than it is about the model they provide for other young Northside entrepreneurs.
“We’ve always wanted to make a difference in our community,” says Yvonne. “We have been assistant coaches for basketball and football. We have bought rental properties and rented them at much cheaper rates so people can live good, feel good. All we ask is that they pay it forward.”
Recently Ricky attended a city commission meeting that included a public hearing on a proposed Northside Business and Cultural District, a designation that will help promote Northside businesses owned by Northside residents, particularly African American ones. The district is part of the neighborhood plan developed through the Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 master plan process and is expected to be voted on in November.
“The main reason why my wife and I took on this venture is for young adults, teenagers, kids, who will be able to look at me and say, ‘Hey, that man has a business and because it was successful, I can have a business.’ I’m trying to be a tool to possibly help change the culture,” Ricky told the city commission.
“It’s more important to leave a legacy than to become millionaires,” says Yvonne, who is in the process of getting her cosmetology license so that Ennovy’s can be a full-service salon. She has been licensed as a manicurist for a year. “It’s so easy to complain. But you have to be part of the solution.
“The wealth of giving and the investment of giving is much greater than a fat savings account,” says Yvonne. “If nothing else, we hope our business will be inspirational. People will see improvement. Those that are business-minded will recognize it and say, 'I could start a business, too.'”
Boneyard Café and the Wall of Unsung Heroes
Now that the salon is finished, though they still need braiders and a licensed stylist, the Thrashes are looking to develop a corner brownfield lot next to Ennovy’s. Last year, they took down two large trees to clear space for an outdoor cafe. By next spring, they plan to open the Boneyard Café, a food truck with outdoor seating.
When Ricky was younger, he used to visit a rib shack in Detroit called the Boneyard Café. That name stuck with him over the years, and when it came time to name the proposed café, he checked with the business bureau and was delighted to see it was available.
“I thought the whole concept behind the name was neat,” he says. “Eat it, and nothing is left but a bone.”
What will he serve? Well ribs, of course. The rest of the menu, including a few planned signature items, is still being developed. The Thrashes hope to hire at least four employees.
“What I like about this whole little section is I know it’s on its way up,” says Ricky, referring to the corner of North and Burdick. “They are talking about the business corridor and complete streets. Some of our neighbors are also looking for improvements on their buildings.”
Ricky Thrash learned to do nails at his wife's suggestion. Photo by Susan Andress
When Ricky was younger, he remembers the whole corner thriving with businesses, including a gas station and store. “I remember when the community was predominantly white, then when it was mixed, and now predominantly black,” Ricky says. “”Over the course of the years, I’ve seen this community change.”
He also appreciates that from the proposed cafe, there is a clear view of downtown.
And as celebrating community is always on the Thrashes’ mind, they also plan to have a Wall of Unsung Heroes at the cafe, which will feature people of the neighborhood like Dr. Alexander. “We are going to honor lesser known people who had a huge impact,” says Yvonne. “That’s our goal. So when someone is sitting there waiting on their meal, they can see the Unsung Heroes Wall and they may recognize a name, or maybe not, but the next time they see that name, they will.”
SWEEP: Proud and clean on the Northside
When the Thrashes three children were young, they started a small informal business they called SWEEP, which stood for Streets With Exterior Excellence and Pride.
“My mother and grandmother always said, ‘There’s no need for failure. You can always clean. You don’t need things in order to be clean. It’s something you choose regardless of your situation, background or environment,’” says Yvonne.
In other words, clean is free. As a way to help instill neighborhood pride while encouraging cleaning at the same time, the Thrashes would hand out garbage bags to neighbor children on the weekends. The kids would return later with full bags for a couple of dollars and a cold pop.
“I think it all comes back to SWEEP,” says Yvonne. “This is just another way to offer a job to someone. Hopefully we can help someone who has lost their way in life or who needs a break. It’s a way of giving back and showing people, ‘You can do it. You can get your standards back up.’ Then push it forward. Do something nice for someone and just keep it going.”
Southwest Michigan Second Wave’s “On the Ground Northside” series amplifies the voices of Northside Neighborhood residents. Over four months, Second Wave journalists will be in the Northside Neighborhood to explore topics of importance to residents, business owners, and other members of the community. To reach the editor of this series, Theresa Coty-O’Neil, please email her here or contact Second Wave managing editor Kathy Jennings here.