Changing lives, one haircut at a time

Published 8:00 am Friday, October 5, 2018

New hair salon opens in Saluda

SALUDA — Asheville’s Michael Cohen has witnessed the power that a couple snips of the scissor can have on someone’s life — especially those who are down on their luck.

A 36-year veteran of the hair styling world, Cohen has worked on tens of thousands different heads of hair, he estimates. The ones that stand out the most belonged to people who, thanks to receiving a new, clean-cut hairdo, were able to discover that tiny bit of confidence hidden inside them  that allowed them to make a giant change for the better.

In addition to the shop, Cohen also operates a mobile hair salon, where he gives free haircuts to the local homeless population. (Photo by Ted Yoakum/Tryon Daily Bulletin)

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Cohen can recall one example of this, where, after cutting the hair of a woman who was living in an abusive relationship, she found a renewed sense of self-worth, prompting her to move forward with her life and go back to school, eventually becoming a lawyer in order to help others.

Through his recently opened hair styling business, Saluda Hair Garage, Cohen is looking to give customers a new look and, for some, a new beginning.

After their cut, customers can check out their new hairdo using a repurposed vehicle side mirror, further adding to the shop’s atmosphere. (Photo by Ted Yoakum/Tryon Daily Bulletin)

The business, located across from Green River BBQ on Highway 176, Saluda, is aptly named.

Cohen has transformed the former Esso gas station into a hair salon that retains many of the trappings of the building’s former identity. The walls of the building are lined with Esso-themed decor and merchandise, while below the front counter is the wheel well of an antique automobile. The services the shop offers are named after those one would expect to see at an auto shop, including “Tune Up” (haircut) or “Paint Job” (coloring).

In addition, the shop is decorated with vintage barbershop and hair salon equipment, completing Cohen’s marriage of horsepower and hair.

Asheville’s Michael Cohen has recently opened a new hair salon, Saluda Hair Garage, off Highway 176 in Saluda. (Photo by Ted Yoakum/Tryon Daily Bulletin)

Cohen — who sold his own hot rod to generate some money to open the business — has spent the past month transitioning the garage into a place to service hair instead of engines, though he has had the idea of opening a car shop-themed hair salon for the past 20 or so years, he said. Several weeks ago, while driving through Saluda, he saw the former garage on 176, and immediately knew it would be the perfect place to turn his long-held vision into reality.

While customers may be charmed by shop’s theme and aesthetic, Cohen’s goal was not just to create a one-of-a-kind salon, but to continue his mission of lending his abilities as a “hair artist” to men, women and children of all walks of life. The stylist said he is willing to work with downtrodden clients who cannot afford the regular price of service, while those who are better off are welcome to pay a bit extra to help their less fortunate neighbors get their hair done.

“I don’t want anyone to be turned down because of money,” Cohen said. “It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, or where you are in life — I want people to look good, because if you look good, you’ll feel good, too.”

Cohen knows all too well what it is like to be down on one’s luck.

Growing up in Boston, the man left home when he was just 10 years old, and discovered his passion for hair when he was 13, helping his grandmother provide wigs to cancer patients.

“To have the power to help improve someone else’s life is awesome,” Cohen said.

Cohen began working at one of the top salons in Boston before heading out west to Los Angeles when he was 17, where he lived on the streets for a few years before getting an opportunity with a major hair salon in Beverly Hills, he said.

After owning a successful salon in Sevierville, Tennessee, for 10 years, Cohen moved to Hendersonville in 2009, where he lived until he recently relocated to Asheville.

Over the past few years, Cohen has combined his knowledge of hair with his passion for giving back to others by building a mobile hair salon, where he provides free haircuts to the homeless population in Asheville and Hendersonville. On days when the Saluda Hair Garage is closed, Cohen will continue to operate his mobile salon, and plans to begin helping the less fortunate in Polk County soon.

Saluda Hair Garage is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Those who wish to contact the business may call 828-450-3270 or may email