The aroma of lavender filled the brightly lit storefront while upbeat music filled the room as Steve Duross began his workday at the business he calls home.
Duross, 55, is the owner and founder of Duross & Langel, a salon and men’s-grooming lounge, at 117 S. 13th St.
The store may have opened at 11 a.m. on the dot, but Duross had been busy at work all morning. Within the first few minutes of open business hours, he was focused on hanging new lights and creating an aesthetically pleasing atmosphere for his customers.
When Duross wasn’t tidying the shelves and perfecting the display of his products, he was busy speaking highly of his staff and directing hair clients up the steps to the salon and lounge.
“I’m a soap-maker,” Duross said. “My talent is more craft-like. Cutting hair or creating a new formula — I use my hands for creativity.”
Duross createsall-natural soaps, skin and hair-care products in-house.
Between answering phone calls and work emails, Duross took time early in the day to reflect on his life and how he became the man he is today.
Duross grew up in Willow Grove and said he wasn’t always confident in his identity.
The summer he turned 21 years old, he came out as gay.
“I wasn’t fooling anybody but myself. It was a form of self-loathing. I asked for an Easy-Bake Oven in 1966 and I remember when I got it. I was showing my parents’ friends what I got for Christmas and they had the most horrid look on their face,” Duross recalled.
“I learned at a very early age that there were things signaling. It took me a little while to shape some of that and when I finally did come out, I came out bursting through a flaming hoop.”
Duross hasn’t always lived and worked in the city. Between juggling soap bars and organizing the shelves, the self-proclaimed “soap maker” recounted his younger years when he lived in San Francisco and then Key West. He said both times in his life shaped his self-acceptance.
Duross lived in San Francisco in the 1980s, then moved to Key West for two years.
“These life experiences color the entire world I live in. The idea is this isn’t just a business. This is about lifestyle — who you want to be. Seek your life. Everybody wants something different.”
Minutes after Duross finished sharing his story, a woman client just finished her hair appointment and was strolling down the stairs. The business owner was quick to engage and compliment her hair makeover.
“It all worked out well! You look beautiful,” Duross said before wishing her a good day.
When he isn’t answering phones or managing schedules, he’s overseeing eight or nine hair stylists. Duross was cutting hair in his own salon for years until November. Now, he hopes to give his stylists a safe place to grow and thrive in the art of doing hair.
“The salon created a space to build and carry out what they do well,” he said. “The future belongs to the next generation. It’s time to pass the torch.”
“I make sure my stylists make sure people know they matter,” he added.
The business consists of a soap and skin-care product shop, and a men’s grooming lounge and salon. Many times throughout the day, Duross is sprinting up and down flights of steps to ensure everything is running smoothly.
“I do these steps 50 to 60 times a day. The day is spent running up and down — that’s the way it goes,” Duross said before disappearing up the steps again.
When Duross returned to the sales floor, he quickly jumped welcoming new customers into the store.
On slower days, he said, the job is all about establishing communication and meeting customers where they are, mentally, in that moment.
“Doing this is all about the people. We have more time to connect with people because it’s an experience. It’s about the community, no ands, ifs or buts,” Duross explained.
“For everybody, it’s something different. We spend time building relationships. There’s always a million things to do here, but the customers coming in and out matter,” Duross continued.
After a midday slowdown, Duross was spotted dancing and singing along to The Monkees’ “Daydream Believer” playing on the sound system.
Duross cut hair for many years. His adventure in this business began at his first salon, The Atlas Hair Company, when it opened in 1997 on Locust Street. From there, he started developing and creating skin and hair-care products which grew into Duross & Langel.
The original business was started by Duross and now ex-husband James Langel. Although the two divorced, Langel remains a silent business partner and pillar behind the scenes.
The business owner does not have a relationship right now and it doesn’t phase him. After ringing up a few customers with their products, Duross reflected on his dating life.
“I don’t have a relationship right now. I always liked sleeping with a man, then deciding whether or not I want to date him. I’m OK with that,” Duross said on his single life.
“I don’t enjoy the dating apps,” he continued. “Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. I believe in chemistry but the thing is, I really do love my solo life. I have been through enough relationships.”
Duross grinned and pointed to his business partner Sarah Evancho, who was busy assisting customers with their soap and skin-care products.
“Besides, I have the perfect work wife.”
Through his partnership with Evancho and his staff, Duross is able to tackle all the obstacles that may come with the territory of owning a business.
“We have a rhythm that works well,” he said. “We support each other and what we’re trying to do with our lives. It’s a comfortable kind of space.”
When it comes to his journey over the years, the future is about keeping it fresh on a personal level.
“Some days, I need to figure out what I’m still excited about,” Duross said. “For me, the thing I love most is probably tweaking anything — making things look and feel a certain way and improving upon something I have already made or done.
“I’m a lot less controlling and more laid back than I used to be — a lot less ‘Type A.’ I have gone through personal and professional peaks and valleys,” Duross added about his time in business.
The businessman continued to greet customers and clients while finding time to make the perfect adjustments to merchandise displays.
“I’ve learned to trust certain people and that people come and go. I have to be less invested in people leaving, or the idea that people will stay because really this is my dream, not everyone else,” he.
Regardless of whether the day wraps up in the early afternoon or night, for Duross, this is simply his calling; soap-maker and hair-stylist.
“This is my life. It’s all of my life and I really love what I do."
For more information, visit www.durossandlangel.com.