Norio Ariumi (Photo by Carol Bates)

by Sue Ann Rybak

Everyone can use a new look – even a hair salon. Norio of Toyko Hair Salon, 8131 Germantown Ave. in Chestnut Hill, recently got a makeover by the renowned architect Elie-Antoine Atallah, principal at Studio of Metropolitan Design Architects in Center City.

Atallah is a Chestnut Hill resident who draws inspiration from Louis Kahn, one of the 20th century’s most influential architects. Salon owner Norio Ariumi, who was born in Japan, approached Atallah about creating a space that was more open, modern and inviting.

Atallah said Ariumi discussed aesthetics and the “simplicity of Japanese designs, serenity, clean lines and openness.”

The 1,000-square-foot salon, which has been part of the community for more than 35 years, is Ariumi’s third location in Chestnut Hill. He decided to open his first salon at 8024 Germantown Ave. after taking a wrong turn and driving through the neighborhood one day.

“I really had no money,” he said. “I barely had $300 in my pocket.”

Lower Gwynedd resident Maryam Lavasani, Ariumi’s business partner, said he decided to open the shop because “he trusted his hands” and “he trusted himself.”

“A lot of people ask me why I stayed in Chestnut Hill,” said Ariumi, who came to the United States by himself as a young man. “I am only here today because of my clients. I have many very happy memories here.”

Lavasani added that people like him.

“He is a character,” she said. “Everybody loves him. He has very loyal customers. People have been coming to him for decades. Unfortunately, many of his original customers have passed away. He had customers for 40 years. People have been very loyal and supportive of us.”

Ariumi, who worked his way up from sweeping floors in a hair salon to cutting hair at professional shows across Japan, decided to do the renovations because he wanted his customers to enjoy high-quality products and service in a beautiful and relaxing environment.

Atallah said without the financial support and cooperation of Paul Altomare, the landlord, the renovations would have never been completed. He provided the additional funds needed to bring the building up to code: including installing a fire detection system, electrical feeds and plumbing upgrades.


The recently renovated salon at Norio of Tokyo.

Kate O’Neill, director of operations at the Chestnut Hill Business District, assisted Ariumi in obtaining a Targeted Storefront Improvement Grant from the City of Philadelphia. The grant allows small business owners to make improvements to the front exterior of their commercial properties with the hope that that the neighborhood will attract more shoppers and grow in vitality and economic performance.

Despite having a relatively small budget for renovations, Atallah said he was able to create a modern space that is friendly to the clientele. His company, SoMD Architects, developed a material palette: wood floor, painted gypsum boards, maple wood panels, glass partitions, and plastic laminate stations and sales counters with minimal colors: natural maple, black and white.

“The mirrors were specified to provide even lighting on the client’s face avoiding shadows and providing true coloration, which is essential when the subject is beauty,” he said. “The lighting is important because you want to see the right color or hair style.”

The salon offers haircuts for men, women and children, hair coloring, highlights, blowouts, and hair treatments such as Liscio Thermal Retexturizing. Haircuts start at $65, a single color starts at $60 and highlights start at $95.

The salon also sells exclusive hair products created by the late Shu Uemura, a Hollywood makeup legend and international entrepreneur, who sold his self-named brand to French cosmetics giant L’Oréal. According to Lavasani, who is also an immigrant, only about 350 salons in the country are selected to carry these products. Many Shu Uemura products are formulated with deep seawater, a mineral-rich water and Asian phyto-ingredients that are known for their beneficial properties in improving the metabolism of the skin.

Chestnut Hill resident Phoebe Griswold, who has been coming to Norio of Toyko for more than 10 years, said that, thanks to the renovations, the salon is now “chic.” She added that many of Ariumi’s and Lavasani’s customers are throwing a reception for them on May 10 to thank them for all their hard work.

“I personally feel that the merchants in Chestnut Hill do us a huge service and work tremendously hard for their customers and clients,” Griswold said. “I think it’s a good way for us to say thank you. They have worked hard to make this small business thrive, and it got to the point where the facility itself really needed upgrading. They invested a lot of money in renovating the salon, and we just want to thank them for that.”

For more information about Norio of Tokyo or to make an appointment, call (215) 247-9299