Ames salon owner credits hard work, loyal customers as Nikki Nails celebrates 25 years – Ames Tribune

Ames’ first nail salon is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month, and the owner credits her customers for helping her business make it through COVID.
Nikki Trinh, the owner of Nikki Nails, sat down with the Ames Tribune this week and told us her story. It’s the tale of an immigrant who came to the United States with the desire to work hard and make a life for herself.
Trinh’s parents brought her and her five siblings from Vietnam to the U.S. in 1992, settling first in Oakland, California. Her father, Dung Trinh, had been in the army and was an ally to the U.S. forces during the Vietnam war. Nikki explained that, after the U.S. pulled out of the country, records remained showing the Vietnamese who had helped the war effort, and there were ramifications, including a limit on educational opportunities, Trinh said, especially college.
“It took us about 15 years to be able to come here,” Trinh said. “When we got here, it was really hard.
“My parents made $400 a month — so $800 a month total — and the two-bedroom apartment we rented was $600 a month.”
It was a big challenge, all eight members of the family living in the small apartment, trying to make ends meet, she said.
“But we never applied for welfare. We never took any money from the government,” Trinh said. “We just worked hard, and so I believe that when you work hard, you will make it.”
Trinh’s family didn’t speak much English when they arrived, but they quickly enrolled themselves in English as a Second Language classes. Nikki’s mom, Minh Chau Nguyen, was a fifth-grade teacher in Vietnam, which is one of the reasons education is so important to the family, she said.
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When Trinh’s father got a job in Perry, the family moved to Iowa in 1995, where they looked forward to a more affordable life and better schools, she said.
Trinh was 19 years old when she arrived in the U.S. Although her siblings all attended Iowa State, she didn’t want to take the college path. She wanted to get to work right away.
She went to work at a nail salon in Des Moines, where some of her clients encouraged her to open her own shop in Ames.
“One of them I remember most was Margy McCarney, the wife of football coach Dan McCarney,” Trinh said. “She had been driving from Ames to Des Moines every two weeks. She said, ‘You need to open your own salon in Ames.’ ”
After a year, Trinh and her husband, Randy Nguyen, decided to take the plunge and open their own business in Ames in October 1996. The business first opened just west of Campustown, but the salon moved to its current location, at 3714 Lincoln Way, years ago.
“We didn’t really know Ames, but we came here and it’s like a small town. We really love it,” she said. “We were the first nail salon in Ames. Then, after we were open for two years, we opened a second location in north Ames.”
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Those early years saw Nikki and Randy working all day, seven days a week.
Trinh said her family helped her immensely with the business. Her brother and four sisters all helped out at the salon while they were in college. Her parents helped, too, and her mom still works there.
Her father used to work as a custodian at Ames High School but has since retired. “I think a lot of people love him there,” Trinh said. “He’s a really friendly guy.”
Nikki and Randy have two children, son Dylan Nguyen, a student at Iowa State, and Elle Nguyen, a sophomore at Ames High.
Nikki said she and her husband try not to spoil their kids, but it’s challenging.
“We want them to have all the things we didn’t have when we were kids,” she said. “But we also want to teach them to work hard.”
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The hardest time in Trinh’s career happened when Iowa’s nail salons were closed by the governor’s order amid the early onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The hardest year in 25 years was last year,” she said. “My husband and I work for the same business, so if we didn’t work, we didn’t have income and we still had to pay for everything.”
The first week the salon was closed, Trinh recalls lying in bed, crying and praying. And in a way, her prayers were answered, she said.
“Ames people really helped,” she said.
The Ames Chamber of Commerce began a campaign encouraging people to support their favorite businesses by buying gift cards, helping to generate cash flow for companies in exchange for services or products to be provided at a future date.
“It is gratifying to hear the Ames Chamber of Commerce gift card program was so impactful,” Dan Culhane, president and CEO of the Chamber, said. “That program plowed well over $130,000 back into local businesses, and while it did not solve any problems, it certainly provided a bright spot in a very grim time for our local business community.”
“Those gift cards were the best thing that ever happened. I really thank God for that,” Trinh said. “It really helped us. We had no income coming in, but I’d sell gift cards and that helped me pay the rent at that time. I want to thank the people of Ames for that.”

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