BRADENTON -- Life as a dialysis nurse was hard. Beverly Katzenberger woke up at 4 a.m. to make it to work by 5. As she was nearing 70 years old, her 10-hour shifts became even more back-breaking. And working with dialysis patients was often depressing.
So she found an out. Katzenberger opened her own eyelash extension studio, A Lash Above, in Sarasota and eventually quit a 24-year career in nursing. Her second studio in Bradenton just opened in May and she has plans to open a third off Clark Road in Sarasota in mid-2014.
"It felt melancholy," Katzenberger, 76, said Monday at her Bradenton location. "I was nursing so many years. That was the only thing I knew."
Katzenberger was taken aback when her sister-in-law visited from California in 2007 with long, sexy, totally natural-looking lashes. Amazed by her sister's eyelash extensions, Katzenberger had a hunch that this would be her way into a more fulfilling business, one that could really create a buzz in the Sarasota area.
"I thought 'If it's popular in California, it's only going to be a matter of time until it's popular here'," she said.
Business has gone so well that she
and her husband, Marty, applied for a trademark so that they could eventually license the business, a process similar to franchising.
On Monday, client Joani Barr laid barefoot on a small, comfortable bed while a stylist glued synthetic lashes to Barr's natural ones.
Barr has been wearing eyelash extensions for six years and gets them touched up every three weeks like a good lash-wearer is supposed to.
Each strand is gripped by a tweezer and dipped into a strong adhesive. It is then placed on the eyelash, about a millimeter away from the eyelid. Each eyelash gets a new strand. The average eye has about 80 lashes.
"It's very relaxing," Barr said while under the tweezer. "I fall asleep."
The initial application takes about two hours and costs $250. A fill, which Barr was having done, costs about $70 and takes about an hour.
Katzenberger, who is educated by and works with Xtreme Lashes, an industry leader in eyelash extensions, stresses that lashes should never go directly on the eyelid. That could create irritation and even infection.
Dr. Jonathan Adler, an ophthalmologist who has been practicing in the area for more than 15 years, says eyelash extensions, when done right, are pretty safe.
"I have a lot of patients who have eyelash extensions and 99 percent of them do great," Adler said.
But patients who don't have healthy eyelids, have bletharitis (inflammation of the eyelids caused by bacteria or skin disease), or may be allergic to the glue should stay away from extensions.
"Those people would be poor candidates for extensions," he said.
Katzenberger says her clients range from 30 to 70 years old because eyelashes tend to get thinner with age.
Barr, who is a retired business owner, gets extensions because she can't stand mascara: "Even when they say it's not going to run, it's going to run."
"I don't wear makeup so for me, this is the answer to all my cosmetic problems," she added.
When the stylist finished, Barr sat up, revealing her fresh tresses. She looked glamorous yet natural with thick, lengthy lashes. There was no noticeable glue or awkward line from where drug store lash strips could have been.
"You look sexy and let's face it -- sex sells," she said.
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @sabrinarocco.