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Emma Highfill | Photographer

As people who purchase old buildings to renovate for their businesses are painfully aware, sometimes it is necessary to just completely start from scratch or at least get pretty darn close to it. Heather DiDomenico Graves, owner of Onyx Salon and Wellness Spa, didn’t have a problem with that. In fact, she always dreamed of being able to gut a building and start from scratch.

When Graves purchased the building at 920 N Kansas Avenue in NOTO, she knew it was going to need extensive work to make it inhabitable.

“You would open the front door and you would fall down to the basement. The floor was completely termite ridden; they had to completely rebuild the main floor as well as the upstairs floor,” Graves said.

It took a great deal of blood, sweat and tears to turn the old, run-down building into a modern, beautiful salon and wellness spa, but Graves was determined to make her dream come true.

Graves started her career in 2002 in San Diego, where she attended the Paul Mitchell School and worked under well-known stylists such as Jet Rhys at Vidal Sassoon Salon. Graves moved to Topeka in 2010, and after several years as a commission-based stylist, she decided to open her own salon where she could teach classes and use all-natural products.

When looking for an ideal location for her salon, Graves immediately found herself drawn to NOTO.

“I love NOTO. I have always loved the older buildings. I love the arts district. I love the environment down here. I just really wanted to be a part of it all.” Graves said.

In addition to the salon, Graves created a studio apartment on the upper floor for herself and her 6-year-old son.

“I’m a single mom and I work until 8:30 at night,” Graves said. “So, it works out well that I can be close to him and still be able to work and to pay the bills.”

Completing a project as big as this one not only takes time but also money. Graves took advantage of the GO Topeka small business incentives and was able to make her dream salon even more spectacular.

“I could never have done this if I lived in San Diego. It would have cost millions of dollars,” Graves said. “But here in Topeka, I was able to do it.”

The building renovations only took about six months to complete from start to finish once the contractors began, but the whole process of purchasing the building and getting the necessary permits took around two years. Graves said contractors had to completely gut the building, leaving nothing but the four outer walls. In addition to structural corrections, contractors had to dig out mud in the basement still remaining from the great flood of 1951. That process uncovered some additional history.

“You could see what it was like during the flood, which is kind of eerie and cool. There was a bucket stuck in the wall, and we realized it was the coal feed for the chimney,” Graves said. “It was really awesome to watch the history of the building unfold and see all the different things that were down there.”

They found several antique glasses that had survived the flood, molded together 45 records and an antique camera that Graves said she plans to take to Wolfe’s Camera Shop to see if any of the film was preserved.

Originally built in 1910, the former liquor store has been transformed into a gem in the heart of the NOTO Arts District.

“Being able to build my dreams here has truly been an amazing experience,” Graves said.


How Do Great Leaders Connect?

How Do Great Leaders Connect?

Old Buildings New Purpose: THE VINEWOOD

Old Buildings New Purpose: THE VINEWOOD