“Lean back and close your eyes,” says Amber Marquez from beneath a surgical mask as you recline onto a padded massage table. For a panicked nanosecond you think you forgot you were getting a root canal. “You’re going to be okay,” Marquez reassures, her gleaming, long dark hair as sleek as her black uniform. As you emerge an hour and a half later, you’re even better than okay—more winsome, more winning in life in general, you are sure, and also more wide awake because your eyes, that hard-working window to the soul, make you look that way. How? It’s because Marquez, intermittently humming along with the Pandora station playing overhead, has meticulously been applying synthetic eyelash extensions.   

Marquez is the master lash artist at Venice Lash Lounge on River Street in downtown Greenville, which she opened two and a half years ago. She is an impressive mix of focused energy and trajectory, and rightly titles herself a “manifester.” Once she decides to do something, it will be done. A single mom (to four-year-old Venice, for whom the salon is named), Marquez, 33, has more than a decade of experience in esthetics and synthetic lash extensions; she was the first person certified in South Carolina in lash extensions after her training in Atlanta. She always knew one day she would open her own salon.

“I was scared at first, obviously, with a one-and-a-half-year-old baby, and I’m single,” says Marquez regarding her entrepreneurial leap. “My life coach said, ‘Listen, all you have to do is just fill out your LLC paperwork. You don’t have to make any decisions, and we’ll meet back in a week.’ Well, I walked down the street and saw a ‘for rent’ sign in the window the same day I filled out my LLC paperwork and I just knew that was it. I called [the realtor] that night and had the key the next day, and I had the store open in five weeks, taking my first client.”

“I’m a believer in Amber. Amber is the master. Once you get them, don’t think that you’re going to be without them!”

 

Kathy Emerson, a longtime client of Marquez, came to Venice as soon as the doors opened. Emerson has barely seen her own lashes in years after Marquez took, at first, a less-is-more approach, until she went full va-va-voom for a party. “I was wearing [a] paintbrush,” Emerson says laughing. There are 150 styles of lashes available—a full set of classic lashes is $175; a volume set $285 with fill-ins about every two weeks that start at $40—but Emerson is a believer in the service, right? Not so fast. “I’m a believer in Amber,” she says pointedly. “Amber is the master. Once you get them, don’t think that you’re going to be without them!”

David Hawkins, who has known Marquez since middle school, sees the delight of her clients firsthand. After he made his way in the wild worlds of New York City and Los Angeles, he circled back to help at Venice. Marquez quickly asked him to handle her public relations, as well as the front-of-house goings-on. And a good thing, too. A recent gracious moment prompted Hawkins to suggest that Venice give back, too.

After a long day of work, Hawkins headed to Publix for groceries but had forgotten his wallet. “There was a part of me that wanted to immediately be frustrated with myself for forgetting my wallet,” says Hawkins. “I told the people, ‘I’m so sorry I’ll go put this back,’ and the cashier, Doug, came from around the register and put his debit card in, and I’m like, ‘No, no, no, what are you doing?!’ He didn’t skip a beat. He said, ‘No, it’s fine. It’s just $8, not a big deal.’”

To Hawkins, that small gesture was huge. Big enough, in fact, for him to inquire about a charity close to the cashier’s heart. The answer was “anything to do with cancer,” and soon after Hawkins presented the notion of Venice’s lash artists donating time and services to cancer patients, which Marquez immediately embraced. Now each month, three cancer survivors referred by the Cancer Society of Greenville County are given a full set of lash extensions, to counter the debilitating effects of chemotherapy. Proof that beauty and commerce can intersect in an unexpected, graceful way.

And Doug, if you’re reading this—thank you for showing that kindness is still the best look going.