ITHACA, N.Y. — Just two days after Serenity Dixon walked the stage at her Ithaca High School graduation, the 2020 graduate logged onto her first online classes at esthetician school.
Now, Dixon, 18, is two months into running Serenity’s Beautique, where she has turned her passion for eyelash extensions and beauty into a hot pink oasis amongst the greys of downtown Ithaca.
Starting a business from scratch in her hometown has meant everything from navigating COVID mask mandates to learning how to paint a ceiling. But to Dixon, jumping from high school to becoming a full-time business owner feels worth it.
“I was getting off [esthetician] school at 6 p.m., coming here, painting all those months,” Dixon said of opening the boutique. “I started school in January, and I signed the lease in January. Then I finished school in April and opened the shop in May. Even when I wasn’t technically open, I was always working on something. It was a lot, but I don’t regret any part of it.”
Since Dixon opened the boutique, she has grown a nearly 200-person client base, ranging from high school friends to those who recently moved to Ithaca experimenting with lash extensions for the first time.
While she’s currently the only employee, Dixon plans to rent out booths in her storefront to other beauticians offering nails and facials, growing the boutique into a one-stop beauty shop.
“I get my lashes done in Syracuse. … My nails, I get those done somewhere else,” Dixon said. “I just feel like I’m running around everywhere, and it would be nice to have one spot to go and get everything done.”
Dixon said she’s always been interested in beauty and fell in love with doing lashes about two years ago, first learning from YouTube videos and practicing on her friends (“I’m sorry,” she laughed). In high school, she started driving to Syracuse every two weeks to get lash extensions — where she said her lash technician taught her everything.
Now, Dixon said she thinks she’s the only beauty spot in Ithaca specifically dedicated to lashes. But starting the boutique wasn’t something she planned. After being admitted to Morgan State University and Buffalo State College to study business, she ultimately enrolled in esthetician school — a decision Dixon said she made in part because she felt the virus would make a full college experience nearly impossible.
Between daily commutes to Syracuse for esthetician school after it transitioned in person, practicing everything from waxing to facials, Dixon said deciding to open her own shop was a spur of the moment decision.
“While I was at [esthetician] school, randomly one day I was like, ‘I think I wanna open a shop,’” Dixon said. “I always knew that I wanted to have a business, but it didn’t feel like right then and there I was going to do it. But it was just the right opportunity for me. So I took it.”
At 18, Dixon said she had been working service jobs since age 15 — from working with the conservation corps at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center to the concession stand at Cass Park. With these savings, and with some help from family, she launched the boutique in May.
Dixon said her family and friends were nervous as she jumped to open a storefront in the middle of the pandemic and while still in school. But she did it anyway — including the fun stuff (social media marketing, beauty treatments) and the not so fun stuff (installing flooring and building walls).
“It made me more nervous to open, being so young,” Dixon said while applying hybrid lash extensions to a client. “A lot of my clients don’t know my age until we start talking. Having social media allows me to show my work, which makes people more open to coming to me.”
As Dixon transformed her South Cayuga Street storefront into a beauty boutique with pink walls and neon signs, she said she wanted the shop to feel modern and luxurious — taking inspiration from her visits to California, where she eventually hopes to move and open another storefront as well as launch a training academy.
“I wanted this shop to be different from Ithaca, like something no one’s really seen here before,” Dixon said.
Dixon is now just starting to give herself a break, open five days a week after working 50-hour weeks and giving herself just one day off weekly since opening.
Though Dixon said she often feels on when she’s not at the store, responding to clients and posting on social media, she said she’s looking forward to making more time for herself again — from visiting restaurants on the Commons (Viva Taqueria’s her favorite) to hiking at Treman State Park as she keeps the business humming along.
“If there’s something I want to do and people think I can’t do it, I’m gonna do it,” Dixon said. “I think if people really want to do something, they should just do it.”