Cathy Lewis Long and janera solomon had admired one another’s work in the community long before they decided to collaborate on The Salon.

As with many things affected by the pandemic, The Salon made it through but not without changes. Long started the venture three years ago with friend and business partner Anne Sekula as a place for women to connect and learn from each other. But a year ago, Sekula decided to pursue other things.

“For me, The Salon is about building community and it’s hard to build community in a vacuum,” says Long, who co-founded and headed The Sprout Fund for nearly two decades. “I knew I wanted a partner and that was a really important part of the work.”

When solomon, a writer, cultural strategist and nonprofit executive who prefers to lowercase her name, reached out to express interest in Long’s work, the timing was right.

“She’s always been a woman that I’ve admired, and we’ve known each other for maybe 20 years. We’ve worked alongside one another, and we’ve both gone through transitions with a ton of synergy,” Long says.

solomon, who comes from a family of strong women, including three sisters, says “female empowerment and the energy and inspiration that comes from a group of women has always been interesting to me and important to me.”

She had watched The Salon pivot during the pandemic.

“That commitment and fortitude to keep going was already impressive to me, so I was thinking, ‘How could I get involved?’ I’ve been thinking, what can we do, if we are coming out of a pandemic — which, hopefully, we are — what can we do for women to shift this conversation? We know what the suffering’s been like, how difficult it’s been, so what can we do with that? What can we make of this collective experience we’ve had?”

The Salon’s membership stands at about 150 women, but about 3,000 people, including some men, subscribe to its newsletter and hundreds take part in the weekly or monthly events. The studio on the second floor of Arsenal Motors, 3700 Butler St. in Lawrenceville, is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Soon after they decided to work together, the pair discovered there’s an ease to their relationship that comes with mutual trust.

“That’s important to me,” solomon says. “It’s very complementary in terms of ideas and energies and trying to manage life-balance, between mothering and working and taking care of ourselves.”

For Long, the business partnership is kismet, since she always intended The Salon to be “a place to know more about ourselves as women and to know more about one another in a way that cuts across traditional boundaries. Janera and I, as partners, are emblematic of that.”

They’ve talked about ensuring that The Salon remains a hub for women to learn more about themselves as they gather with others.

There’s so much talk of the struggles of being all of these things — the mother, the partner, the sister, and not just the mother but an excellent one,” says solomon. “We have to exceed expectations in every endeavor, so we’re hoping to also give people a chance to sort of just be. If you’re curious about something, explore that curiosity. Be free of some of these expectations, of the pressures.”

Sometimes when women gather, even in spaces reserved for them, there’s pressure to impress others with the right stories, the right outfit, or hairstyle, or manicure, she says. But at The Salon, “We can be a little bit messy. Take a breath and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. I’m looking forward to finding ways for us to give confidence to that idea. You can be all the things you are, and it’s OK.”

Long agrees. “We’re not looking to be Pollyanna cheerleaders for women, but to be a place to talk about and to understand more about the dilemmas of being a multi-hyphenated woman.” The Salon, she says, should be somewhere that women can “think about the content of the programs or the richness of the connections, but not necessarily the outward things that make us more similar or more different.”

Their partnership is young — cemented on March 8, International Women’s Day, the anniversary of The Salon’s founding — but the two are looking to the future. One goal is to develop a signature series, says Long, “things that Janera and I create and curate.”

“But we also really want to shine a light, a couple of times a year, on some more signature things,” she says, “a podcast, for example, that might be a weekly or monthly audio conversation with women. We’re still thinking through the direction we want to go. We’re a nascent brand, in many ways. The Salon that Anne and I imagined, pre-pandemic, has pivoted and pivoted and pivoted.”

Sandra Tolliver

Sandra Tolliver is a freelance writer, editor and public relations professional in Upper St. Clair.