It’s been three decades since Maria “Empy” Constante began shaping and polishing the nails of Greenwich women. Back then she was a recent immigrant from Colombia with a passion for the beauty industry. Manicures seemed the most expedient route for the ambitious newcomer to get ahead. “I was struggling with English, but I could manage to say to my customers, “Round or square?” Empy says with a laugh. “Nails I could manage. So I did nails.”
Soon Empy was filing and shaping her way to success. Encouraged by some high-profile customers who remain loyal to this day, Empy left behind the Greenwich Avenue salon where she got her start and opened Empy’s Nails in Cos Cob with her sister, Gloria Jaramillo, at her side.
Gloria, who had immigrated to the Greenwich area a few years before Empy, spoke more confident English. Empy begged Gloria to leave a good job elsewhere to help her get started. “She was my right hand and she still is,” says Empy with a smile.
Together the sisters—among the youngest of eighteen children raised in a small Colombian mountain village—pursued the American dream. Their goal was to earn enough to live locally so that Gloria’s son, Mario, could attend town schools. “We did everything for Mario as a team,” Empy says.
When a celebrity customer advised Empy that day spas were the next big thing, she took a chance. She leased space in a West Putnam Avenue strip mall, adding hairstylists, aestheticians and massage therapists. She grew her staff from four to its current eighteen, often hiring fellow South American immigrants and mentoring them as they built their own secure futures here.
As she planned to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of Empy’s Day Spa with a November cocktail reception, the gracious and enterprising businesswoman sat down with us and shared some of the secrets to her success.
IN HER WORDS
THE LIFE LESSONS THAT HAVE BUILT A LEGACY
Take a risk
“I started knowing almost no English. I would tell my customers, ‘Please correct me.’ I always wanted to learn. And I listened to their tips on building my business. It was very hard, but you can’t get where you want to be without trying.”
“A successful business can’t just be for your benefit. You have to share your success. It builds loyalty,” explains Empy, who considers her staff family. “If you have good people, you have to be good to them.”
All Customers are Celebrities
“I have a lot of famous customers. But I often say, you don’t know who that person is who walks in wearing yoga clothes. If you think everyone is important and treat them that way, everyone leaves feeling pampered.”
Insist on Quality
While Empy teases she can’t give up all her trade secrets, she allows that one reason her manicures are so long-lasting is the attention paid to nail bed preparation. Her manicurists use absorbent cotton towels—rather than cotton balls or pads—to aggressively sweep away old polish. “You don’t want any residue or oils on the nail bed or the polish won’t last as long.”