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Finger Bang had an issue with its signage. The owners of the brand new building in Northeast Portland where the smartly-named nail salon is located weren't going to allow an exterior sign that said "Finger Bang" — even though the hot finger action inside is limited to edgy nail art. So owner Glynis Olson had a rebus-style logo designed: the first word is rendered by the image of a manicured hand, index finger extended in the firing position towards the word "BANG."
She's still having trouble getting a federal trademark on the name, something about how the US trademark office won't trademark "immoral or scandalous" phrases. But the immediate name recognition and glee that Portlanders expressed during the salon's August 2nd opening day reinforced her wisdom in choosing a striking and raunchy name. "If you get it, you get it," said Olson.
Olson wears her black hair with rocker bangs, sports colorful tattoos from fingers to toes, and, of course, has a singularly cool manicure. She used to forgo the mani part of regular mani-pedi dates with a friend, figuring that it was rendered pointless by her job tending bar at the Riverside Corral, a Portland neighborhood strip club. But when she started having her nails done, she realized she had unlocked a new form of personal expression, and started seeking out a better manicure experience.
"The only cool thing I was ever getting from getting my nails done was just, getting my nails done," she said. "I was never able to establish the same relationship that I had with my hairdresser or my esthetician with my nail person. If I'd say, 'this is what I want,' then they would be like, 'no, it's not.' And I'd be like, 'no, no it is, I want this art.' And they'd talk you out of it."
Not only was it hard to get the nails right, the atmosphere wasn't great, either.
"I always had to censor myself and worry about the suburban housewives, the old lady who was gonna be offended if I was talking about getting fucked in the ass the night before," she said. "I want to be able to say fuck, I want to be able to do what I want, I want to be able to have a dance party in the middle of the salon, I want those things."
Now she has it. No one who walks into Finger Bang will flinch at a curse or side-eye a tattoo. If the name isn't enough to get that across, the giant phallic/vaginal murals on the walls, a gift from local artist Klutch, will. If clients ask for Black Sabbath tributes or little buttplugs or Ruth Bader Ginsburg portraits on their nails, they will get what they want. The conscious consumer is also assured that the scrubs and oils come from a local, cruelty-free supplier. One can even choose to have a manicure done with a local line of non-toxic nail polishes.
On opening day, well-wishers continuously came by to drop off food, sparkling wine, and gifts, one of which is a painting of Olson as "Saint Glynis of the Finger Bang," religious icon-style. Walk-in customers were prepared to wait an hour for an open slot for a mani or pedi.
Remember that South Park episode where a boy band is called Fingerbang? That thing where you make a gun with your finger? Well, like that one, this Finger Bang is safe for kids. A pair of young sisters sit on a black leather couch, holding their personal nail kits, while their mom pays for their manicures and thanks Olson for "doing this right, yo." They say they want to come back, one of them to have a kitty painted on her nails. It beats the hell out of peel-off Tinkerbell nail polish.
To find the staff, Olson combed through Instagram accounts, the best place to look at nail art. She pursued her star nail artiste, Asa Bree Sieracki, via social media after a friend told her about a girl who was doing amazing nails locally. Sieracki's a gifted freehand artist who did the nails Olson has today, incredibly detailed freehand art on each finger, with tiny sculpted "jewels" of gel painted to look like oblong turquoise stones. These are the deluxe nails that cost hundreds of dollars — elaborate nail art is priced by the nail — but at Finger Bang, customers can get regular manicures too, like the young woman who's checking out with a perfectly shaped glossy black coat on short nails.
No one in the beauty industry has missed the conversation about labor practices in nail salons sparked by the New York Times' investigation, but Olson had thought about it long before — back when she was a customer. She noticed some salons discouraged workers from conversing too much with their customers, and suspected that they weren't being treated the best or being allowed to keep their tips. Olson doesn't charge her workers for space or materials, ensures they get their tips immediately, and pays out a straightforward commission split.
"I wasn't stoked about giving these people who treat other people so poorly all of this money," she said. "These women bust their ass for so many hours a day, and then if they're not producing enough then they get in trouble, and a lot of times, they're not allowed to keep their tips, a lot of times they have to give their tips to whoever owns the salon."
While her own desire for a better experience drove the opening of Finger Bang, she also paid attention to who else was feeling left out.
"It's really important to me to make people comfortable. I've watched several times at the place where I've been going for the last couple of years, this older trans woman, she was kind of shoved off — literally — into the corner and they would kind of guard her. I was like, I don't want anybody to feel like that."
She also sees an opportunity to reach out to people who need a break, like trans youth and underage sex workers, women in abusive relationships who might not have a professional track record — the cosmetic arts have long been a place for people without safety nets to find stability. Olson plans to use her community connections.
"It's a viable trade. You don't have to get your ass kicked all the time. You're a valid person. Just because you were born in the wrong body doesn't mean that you need to be made fun of," she explains, "I don't give a shit. I want to create opportunities. It's kind of a vain pursuit. I think that self care is very important, but really, like, if I couldn't get gel extensions and crazy nail art on my hands, nothing's going to happen to me."
The salon's nontraditional hours — it's open from noon to midnight — seem like a stroke of genius to those with late hours, but to Olson it was such an obvious market oversight that she was surprised to be the first to keep a nail salon open that late. "I'm not a morning person. My friends are strippers and bartenders. It seemed logical to me, it seemed like a total no-brainer," she said.
What's she's really creating is a welcoming, distinctly Portland atmosphere. "I don't want my friends to go to a place where they feel like they might not be able to be like 'Oh, I'm a dancer,' because there's still a lot of people who have issues saying it," Olson is beautifully defiant, declaring, "Fuck that! Be a dancer! Be whatever you want to be."