Twenty years ago, the Benicia building where First Impressions Salon & Spa is located was the local hardware store—the primary place in town where folks would go to buy power tools, sledgehammers and lumber. Step inside the space now and you’d never know it. The interior is sparkling, with colorful mosaics, reflective vases, a jewelry stand, and a wall filled with dozens of colors of nail polish. And nowadays, rather than burly contractors or weekend do-it-yourselfers, most of the folks who stop by 832 First Street are looking to spruce up.

First Impressions gives locals the opportunity to get a quality spa treatment without having to make the trek out to Calistoga or the Napa Valley. They offer a range of services, from manicures to haircuts to massages, and even have a jewelry selection.

“I had this vision of having a great big salon with everything that you could think of in the business,” founder Kathy Stevens said.

Stevens founded the business 18 years ago, but has only been operating out of the current location for 4 years. Before that, she was located a short distance away, but in a much smaller space across the street. “We love our shop; it’s like a second home for us,” Stevens said. “We spend a lot of time here.”

The inside was designed by a local artist who’s a friend of Stevens. When she first took over the business, the interior looked nothing like it does now. It was gutted, with no color, but plenty of space. Now, the space is sectioned off, with an area that specializes as a nail salon, a place for folks to get haircuts, a jewelry case, and the shelves of shampoo and other beauty products that deck the halls of any hair salon.

“It has a spa feel, very modern,” said Jennifer Florido, who works at First Impressions. “We get compliments on the look all the time.”

If you head further back, beyond the hair salon area, you’ll find the massage area where folks can schedule not just deep tissue and Swedish massages, but waxing, facials, and more.

“Benicia’s a small town, and because of that, it’s actually a great place to build a clientele,” Stevens said. “There’s a lot of competition, but we’re all friendly. If we can’t do something, we’ll refer the customer out.”

Being stylists, Stevens and her team have witnessed countless fashion crazes come and go, and have had to field some pretty strange requests. Stevens can recall when Mohawks were considered crazy or outlandish, she said, but nowadays they’ve risen to the level of widespread acceptability.

“I’d say half the people that work here have crazy hair, but a lot of us are actually pretty conservative,” Stevens said. “We try and have someone for everybody.”

When it comes to crazy or outlandish requests, Stevens said most of them tend to come around graduation time each year, when high school seniors who are trying to add a little spice to their ceremony stop by to throw challenges in the direction of Stevens and her staff.

“We’ve done spider webs on peoples’ heads, or we’ll have checkerboards, or rainbow patterns … of course it’s more challenging, but it’s fun because it keeps us on our toes,” Stevens said. “Years ago, you could have green hair or blue hair and people would stare. But now, a lot of that stuff is actually pretty normal.”

Along those lines, with school all set to resume in August, the folks at First Impressions are anticipating the annual rush.

“It’s definitely more kid-oriented in August when the kids start school around here,” Stevens said. “And all the teachers who are off all summer, they’ll drop in too; we’re always really busy. It’s kind of like Christmas.”

First Impressions in located at 832 First Street, in Benicia. It is open Monday thru Saturday, 10 a.m. until 7 p.m., and closed on Sundays. For more information, or to schedule an appointment, please call 707-747-6910. For an overview of the store and all it has to offer—include an online tour—visit:


Nate Gartrell grew up in Benicia, studied journalism in college, and has written for a handful of media outlets since age 15. He aspires to visit all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums and to hit the trifecta at the horse track.