CONCORD -- Tucked away in the back of a strip mall on Clayton Road, a new business' curtains are pulled shut, its signs are discreet, its advertisements few. This quiet existence, Pamela Gay and Sofia Deleuse have learned, is what keeps their business out of the headlines and out of the cross hairs of other merchants. They deal in lice removal -- a service some have associated with an "ick factor," the thought of the tiny creatures alone making people scratch their scalp.
"We like it a little hidden," Deleuse said inside the shop this week. Then again, "nobody can find us," Gay said.
The pair opened Comb It Out in June without fanfare, after being run out of Martinez by merchants who did not think their bug removal business -- then named Ladybugs Lice Removal -- fit with the rest of downtown. The name was changed after a lawyer representing a Lafayette lice removal business sent a cease-and-desist letter arguing that the name was too similar to the name of the Lafayette store.
Neighboring merchants on the 500 block of Main Street in Martinez said the lice removal business would drive away customers from nearby restaurants.
In March, the merchants successfully appealed a Martinez Planning Commission approval of the lice removal business to the City Council. The council reversed the earlier decision after a lawyer for the merchants argued the planning commissioners failed to make the required findings needed to add lice removal salons to the list of permitted uses in that zone of the city.
"It's just subliminal negativity," said Pat English of Haute Stuff, who was one of the appellants. "Lice (while) you are thinking about lunch?"
Gay and Deleuse took a decidedly quieter approach in shopping for locations in Concord, settling on Suite J in the Clayton Center at 4375 Clayton Road. Missing this time is a bug in the business's logo and a sign on the door detailing the life cycle of a nit. There is a vacant storefront on one side of the business and a dog grooming business on the other.
The response from neighboring merchants and the city has been pleasant, according to the owners. Senior City Planner Frank Abejo said Comb It Out obtained a business license before opening last year and is treated like a beauty salon or barber shop, so no Planning Commission approval was needed under the city's zoning code.
Janice Walker, a dog groomer at next door's Clip N Clean, said they can relate to the type of service Comb It Out provides.
"We see ugly -- dogs that have matted coats and fleas," Walker said. "They don't bother us."
"Sounds like it might be a little more appropriate," English said of the new location. "Discretion benefits the client as well. Even though it's prevalent in schools and it's almost a rite of passage for a kid, it's still something that culturally we are kind of embarrassed by. I'm just glad they are not here."
The lice removal salon, which accepts appointments and visits local schools, offers free head checks for lice. A typical session to remove lice can take up to two hours of combing, which Deleuse and Gay say they find therapeutic.
"You have to be methodical," Deleuse said.
Laura Rodriguez, 42, of Concord, said her 4-year-old and 8-year-old daughters each brought lice into the home at separate times, passing it on to their parents.
"We tried it on our own to get rid of them. They just kept coming back," said Rodriguez. "The way they comb is so thorough. They caught stuff we never would have seen."
And Deleuse finds a little irony in the whole ordeal.
"Funny thing was our first client was from Martinez," she said.
David DeBolt covers Concord and Clayton. Contact him at 925-943-8048. Follow him at Twitter.com/daviddebolt.