In Style

Love Letters: Tina Hair and Nails Salon Is a Kid-Haircut Revelation

French braids and lollipops for them; way less hassle for me.

By Allecia Vermillion April 18, 2023

If you decide to have children, at some point, they are likely to grow hair. And that hair, sooner or later, will require some sort of maintenance.

The world of children’s haircuts is bewildering. Venture to an adult salon and the stylist’s smile inevitably tightens at the sight of a wiggly little customer. The worst are the hair places attached to toy stores—a dastardly business plan that means I either budget extra money for a toy on the way out, or budget extra time for the whining and sniffling that happens when I stand firm and veto the $25 hedgehog stuffie. Toy-denial tantrums aside, kid haircut destinations generally book up weeks in advance, at least for the hours when their clients aren’t in school. The cost of grooming two kids, with tax and tip, can approach $100, even at chain shops.

And then there’s Tina Hair and Nails Salon in Columbia City—“Tina’s” to regulars—where you walk in anytime. Owners Phuong and Thao Nguyen don’t even take reservations. Their stylists feel like a brigade of aunties who are genuinely delighted to receive smaller customers. They whip out booster blocks so little bodies can sit tall in the stylist chairs and make barbershop small talk while getting down to business with shears and clippers. The Nguyens and their crew work with the brisk efficiency of bartenders on Friday night. Even on the busiest Saturday, we’ve never waited more than five minutes for a haircut.

I learned about Tina’s from a mom who’s been in the game longer than I have. The salon hides in plain sight on Rainier Avenue, behind a faded green and white awning and one of those generic haircut advertisement posters ripped from the 1980s. It’s very much a business for adults, but you’ll usually find at least a few families waiting their turn on the long bench by the window. Further proof that Tina’s genuinely appreciates kids: My daughter often comes in just for a bang trim, but when it’s done, Thao or most other stylists offer to braid her hair. We’re not talking the sad, haphazard plaits she gets at home. These are resplendent, Disney princess–level French braids that lend magic to the rest of the day.

On our most recent visit, both my son and daughter arrived shaggy and disheveled. They left looking sharp and groomed. I paid $27, before tip, for the whole shebang, and each kid got to dip into the big jar of Dum Dums on the way out the door. Thao urged each of them to take a second lollipop.

“I love this place,” my son remarked as he ruffled his newly clipped hair and looked at his reflection in the front window. For a while, at least, I can perpetuate the falsehood that I am an organized parent. The kind who packs healthy, produce-heavy lunches, fills the weekend with wholesome activities, and makes sure her kids always look kempt. After a visit to Tina’s, at least one of those things is true.

Tina Hair and Nails Salon

5101 Rainier Ave S, Columbia City, 206-723-2999

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