Su-Shan Lai strives to have the best of both worlds and continues that pursuit at her new Main Street hair salon.
Starshine Salon, which recently debuted at 4456 Main St., combines her business side, in her years as a stylist, with her creative half. The working actress and former Los Angeles resident plans to host regular arts events in the style of the Enlightenment-era "salon."
Lai stocks her magazine rack with different publications, The Economist and Science, than expected at a hair salon.
The salon side will also double as a writer's workshop. She wants to create a place where people can share their manuscripts, receive feedback and host readings.
She wanted an artistic community, like Manayunk, which she chose as it fit her style. Recently, she renovated the former Miss Mani Pedi nail salon.
"This is the size and space I wanted. I want it to be as cozy as possible," she said.
A Pottstown native, Lai's worked at a variety of makeup and hair places throughout her life. At the makeup counter in JC Pennies, she said loved interacting with customers and felt a hand in improving their days. That evolved into her hairdressing career, where she worked on the Main Line, Glenside, Willow Grove, South Philly and Center City.
Lai then decided to chase the acting dream and moved to California. During all of her acting gigs, she opted against waiting tables and instead did hair and makeup.
Since coming back to Pennsylvania, she sought out that freedom that comes from owning your own business.
"If you ever do your own business, it's hard to work for other people. Not that it's bad to work for others, but it's hard to go back to that."
Economic concerns didn't factor into her decision-making. She performed 90 percent of the internal renovation herself and said she's confident she can adjust to whatever curveballs are thrown her way.
"It's a cool thing in being a stylist. I fix my prices to fit the economy and feel it will be OK," she said, adding the business lacks many overhead costs.
She says she's remained passionate about her career. Lai describes situations where she's approached strangers and suggested ways she could improve their look.
"I can see someone and say, 'You seem to have a problem with volume, I think I can help you,'" she said.
For Lai "Starshine" has been her long-time nickname. She felt it works well for the business, as she wanted to evoke a magical sensation.
To check out the Starshine Salon, visit its open house Dec. 2 from 2 to 7 p.m. Call 215-483-8180 or visit its Facebook page for more information.