Man walks into a roadside nail bar… No, seriously

If you’re willing to sit on a plastic chair on the side of the road, you can get a French manicure for fifty bucks. SHIMEI GANESH explains.

Last week I found myself sitting under a gazebo on a sidewalk across from The Workshop, in the Durban CBD, where 28-year-old Sinenhlanhla Ntombela (“Snezzy” to her friends), a third-year media and communications student, was kind enough to allow me a seat in the shaded comfort of her stall.

There were a few stools, even fewer tables, and a handful of customers with their feet up while having their nails done.

“For fifty rands is just French manicure, or simple tips”, Snezzy tells me while sanitizing her hands before a manicure, an afro-house song playing in the background.

“But if I put a little bit of art it’s R60. We do stick-ons, we do some diamantes, we do some hand-free art. And maybe some little bit of glitter to make your nails look nice”.

Snezzy has been in the beauty industry since 2008, when she used to operate her business as a mobile unit, moving between houses, schools and churches.

In 2011, she decided to rent a tent at the Workshop Flea Market from the Durban the municipality.

“It’s better this way because if you are mobile, it’s time-consuming and you have to travel. My rent is now only R220 a month. People who started calling me for house calls, I told them that they must come to the Workshop,” she says.

The ladies in the adjacent salon share a laugh when I express interest in the different services on offer. One of her customers tells me that she now pays half as much as she used to at a conventional beauty salon.

“That is a new style, that one,” Snezzy says before handing me a tablet that she uses as a catalogue.

“Sometimes they see music videos, maybe for Rihanna. And then they come and ask me for the same thing. So I have to be on top of my game,” she explains.

Nail bar 2Snezzy doesn’t work alone. She employs one or two people on a casual basis each day.

“On the normal days it’s one and end of the monthit’s two. And when it’s maybe like big holidays, like December, maybe three or four because that is the busier time of the year,” she says while carefully applying an adhesive to keep her customer’s fake nails in place.

Her clients are not solely women. “We do have one or two male customers who come for buff and shine, just to make their nails look neat. It’sR20,” she tells me. A gleeful smile lights up her face when I apprehensively offer up my hands.

Understanding that this is the first time I’ve had my nails done, Snezzy is kind enough to talk me through the process, assuring me that the jeers from the adjacent stall have nothing to do with the current state of my masculinity.

Wilting in the humid Durban afternoon, I ask about how the weather affects her business.

“If it rains, clients just call in to check if we’re here. If it’s just straight rain, it’s fine”, she explains while sanitizing my hands. But if it goes with wind, it’s very difficult. We just pack up and go,” she says.

“See, tomorrow is month-end and if it rains then, eish, it’s not going to be easy. So the weather is the biggest threat here.”

There are at least eight other beauty salons in the Workshop Flea Market area, and I ask about the competition.

“Ja, so much competition. But if you know what you doing, it’s no stress”.

She brings an end to my manicure with a vigorous polish, wearing a pleased smile at the sight of another satisfied customer.

Snezzy will attend to many more clients this evening, before reaching home in time to spend the remainder of the night with her books.


Shimei Ganesh profile picShimei Ganesh is a media and communications postgraduate, a compulsive people-watcher and perpetually thirsty for living, learning and a life of leftism. Follow him on Twitter.