LITTLETON - The backstories of The Salon and Gift Shop owner Cathy Rhodes and her faithful jack-of-all-trades assistant Donna La Brecque, mirror that of so many other Lake Gaston residents: born up North and fall in love with the tranquil nature of the lake and the “Southern hospitality” of their new neighbors.

Rhodes and La Brecque, New Jersey natives that met at Lake Gaston, didn’t quite make it to retirement before settling here fulltime. They’re still on the clock. Rhodes opened The Salon and Gift Shop in the summer of 2019 and La Brecque later joined forces from Harley-Davidson in Roanoke Rapids.

Rhodes has more than 35 years of experience as a hairstylist but half of her modern, pristinely-kept space of The Salon is for the gift shop. We’re not talking about a few T-Shirts in the corner.

“We had the extra space,” said Rhodes, “and wanted to do something with it, so that’s where the gift shop came in. And then it really turned very nicely into all local artists. And it’s still growing. People are still finding out that we offer the space to the local artists.”

Local artists means a distinctly local flair. Many of the items available for purchase are Lake Gaston-centric, not generic.

A host of artists have partnered with The Salon and Gift Shop and the gallery frequently changes, giving customers good reason to return and browse for what’s new, even making special requests.

“We’ve gotten a slew of all different types of art and glass and wood turners, quilting and jewelry,” Rhodes said.

An entire room is dedicated to Sarah Bolduc’s paintings. Other featured artists include but are not limited to Lori Magnusson (Lake Fish Designs), Wayne Herman (cooked spoons), Pat DeJesu (jewelry), Shelly Schwartzback (Wonky Potter and Glass), Euland Hoyle (wood turner), Steve Leach (horseshoes), Pat Snipes (stained glass), Susan Schulz (author), R. Goforth (author), Houston Kidd (author). 

“Everything is unique, custom made,” said Rhodes, a Monmouth County, N.J. native who is also a licensed real estate agent in North Carolina with Lake Gaston Edge Realty. 

That’s art, hair and real estate under one roof at 326 Lizard Creek Road. Anything else? Liza, the nail tech, will soon be available for manicure and pedicure appointments, and Nancy Gazzara rounds out the staff when La Brecque is away. 

Rhodes, who previously owned a salon in the Garden State, uses Redken and Brazilian Blowout hair products, and said her clients feel comfortable because of how stringently COVID-19 protocols are followed, from wiping down surfaces to wearing masks. La Brecque makes sure multiple customers don’t use the same pen unless it has been sanitized first. 

“I like making people feel good about themselves and happy with their hair; getting to know people, becoming part of their life,” Rhodes said. “I just enjoy working with people and making them happy.”

Rhodes and La Brecque, a former New Jersey Devils season ticketholder who hails from farther north in New Jersey toward Newark, are happy at Lake Gaston. 

“Well for me, where I grew up was very similar to this when I was a child,” Rhodes said, “but now it’s like Raleigh where I was from. So I like the rural-ness of (the lake area) and the hometown feeling. No traffic or traffic lights is the best part. And everybody appreciating you. Everybody here appreciates you.”

The Salon and Gift Shop can be reached at 252-676-1493 for an appointment.