Girard Avenue salon strives to be unique in a crowded market

Whether it’s a cut, a color, highlights or a perm, Ultimo Salon claim they can do it.

That’s how neighborhood salons like Ultimo at 7446 Girard Ave. survive, by serving people, giving them want they want and need.

Under various guises, the retail space now known as Ultimo, whose name means supreme, has been a salon in La Jolla for 35 years. Current owner Joe DeNicholas bought it 22 years ago.

“When I first came here,” he said, “I didn’t know anybody, and I finally got known by offering to do people’s hair for free. You get one client who’s satisfied and they will tell two or three of their friends.”

Shari Ness Cottrell is one of several hairdressers at Ultimo. She got there in a roundabout way, working and managing at hourly franchise hair salons before returning to full-service.

“Everybody can approach this different,” said the perky hairstylist, a La Jolla High School graduate. “I knew my whole life I wanted to be a hairstylist. I used to get in trouble in school for playing with people’s hair. Now, I get paid for it.”

Cottrell honed her craft training 10 months at Vidal Sassoon in Los Angeles, which treats haircutting as a science.

After graduating as a hairstylist, she found herself married with two children and living in El Salvador. She and her family of four sold their house and moved aboard a 44-foot catamaran sailboat named See Life. She later returned from Central America as a single mom in 2001 ready to begin scaling the career ladder again.

“I started out at an entry-level salon, Great Clips, a Supercuts-type store,” she said, “but the dream of most stylists is to have their own place, be their own boss. That’s why I went back to full service. I wanted more control of my time.”

Cottrell can work seven days a week, one or none if she chooses. Her booth is her own space. She has a credit card machine, as well as her own tool box of styling products.

“When we rent our space, we run our own business,” she said, “choose our own prices.”

Before going back to full-service salons, Cottrell resuscitated three salons between University City and Escondido in financial trouble.

“They didn’t have leadership,” she explained. “Their salon managers were just the strongest stylists. But it’s two different things, haircutting and managing.”

DeNicholas said it’s important to give people what they want. The only problem is, he said, people don’t often know what they want. A stylist has to guide them in making the right choices.

“Most people who say they know what they want, it doesn’t look good on them,” he said.

DeNicholas said hairstyling is a personal business.

“How many businesses do you know where people will allow you to touch them?” he asked.

DeNicholas is contemplating retirement soon, but it will be difficult to let go of the salon because so many of his