Peace of Downtown: Hightide Salon

salon decor

Story and photos by Michelle Porizkova

salon space
Hightide Salon opened in 2021, founded by sisters Kelley Pheonix and ,Maggie Leonhardt, who wanted to invite nonbinary clients and untraditional cuts and colors. It was designed to be a welcoming and comfortable environment, says Leonhardt.


Located in the warehouse district of downtown Raleigh, The Hightide Salon is difficult to miss; decorated with its colorful logo and a pride emblem in the window, it presents itself as an inclusive and exciting new hair salon.

According to one of its founders, Maggie Leonhardt, that’s exactly what the shop is all about.

Opening their shop in March of 2021, Maggie and her sister, Kelly Pheonix brought their vision to life after spending time together remotely on their family farm. Pheonix was taking care of her newborn, and Leonhardt was out of work due to the pandemic at that time. 

Hightide, when stepping foot inside, is not like your typical salon. It’s modern and breathtaking, with decor to match its uniqueness.

They have a beverage bar for their clients and a beautiful shampoo room – all things that will allow the client to feel taken care of, particularly now.

The sisters have made it a point to provide the community with a safe haven, one that recognizes nonbinary clients, untraditional cuts and colors, and hair that belongs to any skin color.

“My sister was always into philanthropy, and in general just has a ton of world knowledge and experience when it comes to business; as for me, I’m a hairstylist of 16 years, so we were brainstorming and we came upon our idea,” said Leonhardt.

There seemed to be something missing from the community in Raleigh, according to the sisters, and the hair industry in the Triangle was not fulfilling that need.

“There’s a big ultimatum you have to make,” said Leonhardt. “Either you choose to work for yourself, or you work for someone else.”

salon sofa and chairs

A new trend had been popping up in the hair industry where those two worlds were able to come together, and the sisters jumped on that bandwagon in order to bring Raleigh a new place for both client and stylist.

“We wanted to make it possible for artists to be artists, but also have the opportunity to be successful business owners themselves,” [sic]  said Leonhardt.

All of the ideas were leading both of them to believe this would be something incredible, and with months of raising money and business planning, they were able to bring Hightide to life.

“It was a very volatile time to be thinking about opening a business, let alone a salon,” said Leonhardt. “I said that people will be changed when they come out of this mess, and will want new things and new experiences.”

salon products on shelf

A lot of people didn’t understand the salon at first, what it was and what the purpose was. Both sisters were making it a point to show the community what they were all about.

They were a part of some charity events, and are even GreenCircle Certified, which means Hightide places an emphasis on sustainability and transparency.

“Over these past few months I think we really set out to prove something and we did,” Leonhardt said.

The most challenging part for the sisters’ was the pandemic and keeping up with the protocol and safety of their clients. As regulations and safety measures change, these small businesses are responsible for keeping their shop a safe space.

“We really focus on the client experience, and safety is always a part of that,” said Leonhardt. “As things progress we hope we can keep providing that calm and safe environment.”

“The team that has been assembled here has been curated to cater to a particular niche,” Leonhardt said. “Everyone here is a specialist or a master stylist, and we really book clients intentionally so that their relationship lasts many years.”

salon products on shelf 2

“We want clients to feel comfortable during any sort of phase of life, whatever they may be going through and as they navigate through figuring themselves out and who they are,” said Leonhardt.

Hightide’s doors are welcoming with open arms, proving that space can look beautiful, all the while making the people inside look just as gorgeous.