West End Salon & Spa (Units 1 and 2) | West Beach Condominium.
Follow the bubbles in the West End air and soon enough, you’ll arrive at 155 Commercial Street. The evanescent, iridescent trail leads to the West End Salon & Spa, founded in 1982 by the theatrically outgoing Laurence Douglas “Dougie” Freeman. He and his shop were propelled into the national spotlight in January 2011 thanks to Tabatha’s Salon Takeover on the Bravo TV network. It’s an appearance that Freeman continues to promote, even though Tabatha Coffey’s kindest observation was that she was hopeful he might one day find a “balance between professional behavior and tackiness.”¹
Until 1985, 155 Commercial occupied the same tax lot as 157 Commercial Street.
For most of the first half of the 20th century, this was the home of Isaiah Adelbert Small (1868-1945). He had been born in an apartment above the First National Bank of Provincetown, then at 290-292 Commercial Street. When Small was 21 years old, he returned to his birthplace to begin working at First National as a bookkeeper, having studied in the Boston unit of the national Bryant & Stratton College chain of business schools. He had been promoted to assistant cashier of the bank at the time of his death. He also served for 23 years as the secretary of King Hiram’s Lodge.
155 Commercial Street in 2019, by David W. Dunlap.
Small married Carrie Willis Clark (1866-1929) in 1892. Their son, Isaiah Adelbert Small Jr., died from diabetes in 1924, when he was 20 years old. Carrie died in 1929 of breast cancer. The next year, Small married Daisy Anne Ranskill (1880-1980). In the 1930s, she rented rooms at 155 Commercial to transients, as many homeowners did. She was still living here at least until 1975, if not until her death. She is buried in Provincetown.
Romain Roland (1927-2008) and Eileen (Rusling) Roland (1932-2017) acquired the property in 1980 from the estate of Daisy Small. Romain was Italian. Eileen, English. So, of course, they wound up in New York, where he worked as a chef and she as a hairdresser. In Provincetown, they owned the Rose & Crown guest house and, in 1978, opened Chez Romain at No. 157. Eileen’s obituary noted that renovating one the town’s oldest buildings into a restaurant was the couple’s “proudest achievement.”² In 1985, she transformed 155 Commercial into the five-unit West Beach Condominium. A plan to build a new two-bedroom, 963-square-foot house in the rear yard as part of the condo was not realized. In 1991, Roland purchased 184 Commercial Street where, the obit said, “she offered rooms and apartments for rent to year-round and seasonal workers.”
Left: Eileen Roland, from Currentobituary. Right: The building as it appeared in 2008, in a photo by David W. Dunlap.
Rear view of 155 Commercial in 2019, showing the beachfront parcel on which Eileen Roland hoped to build. Photo by David W. Dunlap.
During the Rolands’ ownership of 155 Commercial, their tenants included Bernd “Marek” Kryszkiewicz (1942-2004) and his wife, Jamie Kryszkiewicz, the proprietors of the Silk & Feathers clothing boutique, 375-377 Commercial Street. Marek was killed in a two-car accident on Route 6 in North Truro in May 2004. Jamie was badly injured, as was a 20-month-old girl, Natasha, whom the couple planned to adopt.
The West End Salon opened as a tenant of the Rolands. Freeman, a proprietor whom The Cape Cod Times called an “outrageous and ingenious entrepreneur,” grew up in Newton and spent summers as a teenager in Dennis, when he would hitchhike down to Provincetown. He began working as a hairdresser in Cambridge, and has continued to spend a couple of days there each week, in a salon off Harvard Square.
A subdued Dougie Freeman in 2017. Photo by David W. Dunlap.
Refined, it wasn’t. Freeman embraced a kitschy, campy, tacky, in-your-face approach to marketing, as if the 1970s had never ended in Provincetown. The bubble machine was the least of it. To advertise its henna tattoos, West End sent young men and women around town in full-torso body art — “walking signs,” Freeman called them. The proprietor himself was an exuberant presence outside the shop, more circus barker than professional stylist. (When we meet him at the beginning of Tabatha’s Salon Takeover, he is wearing a fake sun visor from which a blond wig sprouts. He also accosts female passersby: “Come on, ladies, you know you want it.”) Most notoriously, a stripper’s pole was installed in the center of the salon, and customers were offered $1 off their bill for every minute they danced on the pole.
By his own admission, Freeman was deeply in debt by July 2010. In his late 50s, he was drained by a punishing work schedule that kept him from his long-time partner, James M. “Jimmy” Gaetani. Enter Tabatha Coffey and the Bravo TV production crew. “We were certainly in trouble financially, certainly in trouble lifestyle-wise,” Freeman told Kristina Kehrer in a 2016 interview for NeighborMedia.
“You don’t get that unless you need her, you don’t ask Tabatha. Because this is an 80-hour commitment — 80 hours of filming for 43 minutes. No air-conditioning, and no music and very little food. I lost 10 pounds during filming, which was a good thing. But they really pull you to the bone.”
Coffey puts it bluntly as the show opens: “Between Dougie’s shtick and the unprofessional behavior of his staff, West End is a tragic joke.”
Left: A 2008 advertisement. Right: A 2004 ad.
A “Dougie Dollar,” picturing Danielle, that is handed out to passersby. Tabatha Coffey threatened to burn a box full of them on Tabatha’s Salon Takeover.
A “Dougie Dollar” from 2019 featured the founder himself.
Left: A “walking sign,” as Freeman calls them, advertised the henna tattoo in 2010. Photo by and courtesy of David Jarrett. Right: The cover of a contemporary brochure.
The henna tattoo service is also advertised on the salon’s website.
As the episode unfolds, Coffey attempts both to shame the staff and empower them. Her particular nemesis, her “problem child,” is Robby LaRiviere, a spray-tan advocate who’s Freeman’s protégé and disciple in aggressive marketing, attempting — among other things — to spritz a passing bicyclist with tanning solution. “We do make it a fun, exciting, Provincetown atmosphere,” LaRiviere tells Coffey. “That can’t go. I wouldn’t work there if it was a typical salon.”
Coffey’s theory seems to be that if Freeman steps back from the shop, spends more time with Gaetani, abandons the shtick, and delegates more responsibility to his employees, they will — in turn — act more like adults and adopt a professional attitude that will attract customers. Toward the end, Coffey stages a beachfront wedding ceremony for Freeman and Gaetani.⁴
In the coda, Coffey revisits the shop six weeks later to find that Freeman’s shtick is undiminished. “I feel like it’s not a bad thing,” he tells her. “I kind of had to bring it back. I wanted to retain some of my own identity, and my own brand. I’m a little rebellious. You know, I like the shtick and it makes it interesting for me.”
Without making too much of a reality TV show, it’s possible to see — in the tensions that were tearing Freeman apart — a microcosm of how the town’s queer spaces seemed to be transforming from lustful, kinky playgrounds into little gay Nantuckets. Coffey may be authoritative about what makes a salon successful, but by her own acknowledgment she knows nothing about Provincetown, and the extent to which carnival is embedded in its DNA.
The episode aired in January 2011. And apparently there is no such thing as bad publicity in 21st-century America. Tabatha’s Salon Takeover put the West End Salon on the map. “It changed everything,” Freeman told Kehrer in 2016. LaRiviere emerged a bit humbled and suddenly a minor celebrity in his own right. “Life is very different when you have fans dropping in from all over the world,” he told Robert Nesti of the Edge Media Network in 2011. “In some ways, it’s quite surreal. Now I get noticed just about everywhere I go, and it never gets old.”
As of 2020, the West End Salon was still in business, with Freeman in place as the owner, and Scottie Mobark as the manager. At the time, the salon had received 29 five-star user reviews on Yelp! out of a total of 53. Donovan H. of Los Angeles said of Freeman: “He is great fun, and very welcoming and attentive.” But eight reviewers gave it only one star.
At 155 Commercial Street, Freeman owns Unit 1 (the basement) and Unit 2 (the first floor) through Provincetown Properties L.L.C. The three upstairs residential units are owned by residents of Boston, Cambridge, and Hebron, Conn.
The entranceway on a June night in 2019, in a photo by David W. Dunlap.
¶ Last updated on 25 January 2020.
155 Commercial Street on the Town Map.
Thumbnail image: Photo, 2009, by David W. Dunlap.
For further research online:
• Laurence Douglas “Dougie” Freeman
“Bravo Highlights ‘Cutting Edge’ Hairdresser,” by Susan Milton, The Cape Cod Times, 27 December 2010.
“Catching Up With a ‘Reality’ Star,” by Kristina Kehrer, NeighborMedia, 31 July 2016.
• Bernd “Marek” Kryszkiewicz (1942-2004)
“A Fallen Friend,” by Conor Berry, The Cape Cod Times, 21 May 2004.
• Robby LaRiviere
“Robby LaRiviere: Tabatha’s ‘Problem Child’ Grows Up,” by Robert Nesti, Edge Media Network, 28 July 2011.
• Eileen (Rusling) Roland (1932-2017)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 176376728.
“Eileen Roland,” Currentobituary No. 204142.
• Romain Roland (1927-2008)
“Romain Roland, Well-Known Chef, Restaurateur,” The Provincetown Banner/Wicked Local, 18 December 2008.
• West End Salon & Spa
Tabatha Takes Over (a/k/a Tabatha’s Salon Takeover, Season 3, Episode 4), Bravo TV / NBCUniversal, 3 January 2011. Available for purchase on YouTube.
“Speak Softly and Carry a Big Shtick,” by Tabatha Coffey, Bravo TV, 3 January 2011.
¹ “Speak Softly and Carry a Big Shtick,” by Tabatha Coffey, Bravo TV, 3 January 2011.
² “Eileen Roland,” Currentobituary No. 204142.
³ “Bravo Highlights ‘Cutting Edge’ Hairdresser,” by Susan Milton, The Cape Cod Times, 27 December 2010.
⁴ The Annual Town Report shows no such marriage in July 2010.