Lewis “Drexel” Davison, owner of Rehoboth’s renowned salon/spa and hot spot Bad Hair Day? has been through many emotional extremes throughout the history of his business, which is now entering its 28th year. For example, after 10 weeks of COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, he was eager to reopen.
“We were excited to be moving back to 30 percent of our fire marshal capacity,” he says. “And we have really taken a lot of precautions. I can’t put myself in jeopardy — I take care of my 83-year old mom.”
Davison’s roots — “I am really a waiter at heart,” he says — brought him indirectly to his current career. He began waiting tables and catering in New York City, and then ended up helping create a restaurant in Kent Island, Maryland, called Sunsets on the Bay. There he met two hair stylists from Annapolis who encouraged him that his personality was perfect for the hair styling business.
“I was initially excited about it, but after finishing hairdresser school decided it was not for me,” he recalls. “So I moved back home to my favorite place in Delaware, the most gay-friendly place in Delaware, which is Rehoboth.”
While waiting tables at a Rehoboth restaurant, Davison was given a unique opportunity when the building next door became available. “There was another waiter there who had a hair license,” he says. “And the owner said, ‘Why don’t you two open a salon there for the summer?’”
The partners branded themselves on the look of the place, with vibrantly painted walls and flowers lifted from the gardens of strangers and parks.
“We were originally going to call it Metamorphosis, but I never could remember that name and I still can’t spell it today,” Davison says. “I had a hat that I liked to wear that said ‘Bad Hair Day,’ so at the end of it all I said, ‘Let’s call it Bad Hair Day, with a question mark at the end.’”
“I love that it’s a small state and that it’s the first state. I love that it’s a community, small enough that we can know each other.”
The name was easy to remember, made people laugh, and Davison’s parents hated it. “They said, ‘Why would you use a negative name for your business?’ But it ended up being a great name.”
Bad Hair Day? had a rocky start. When Davison’s business partner quickly realized he was doing much better as a waiter than by doing $25 haircuts all day, he decided to leave. Significant money losses associated with the building’s ownership complicated things further. But Davison took over the business and ran with it.
“I was fueled by anger and determined to succeed to show them that I could make it work,” he says. “And that’s really the energy that has motivated me these last 27 years.”
Those early challenges prepared Davison for the day-to-day challenges of running a salon, which now has over 75 employees.
“It fuels me to move through the challenging times, like now,” he says. “‘Tubthumping’ (by Chumbawamba) has always been my theme song — ‘I get knocked down, but I get up again.’”
Early in the business, Davison worked nights at the Cultured Pearl to pay bills.
“It was especially challenging in the winter,” he recalls. “Sometimes I would have one client a day, and I would make her wear a coat because I couldn’t afford to turn on the heat.”
In his time in Rehoboth, Davison has experienced much of the city’s dramatic growth.
“There were a lot of us who are still here — Sam Calagione (of Dogfish Head) used to wait tables at Arena’s,” Davison says. “We both started our businesses in the same year. We were all lucky to be in the right place at the right time.”
Davison credits Joyce Felton, owner of Blue Moon and a number of other restaurants, with putting the gay community on the map in Rehoboth.
“The Moon was always the center of gay life here,” he says. “The ‘straights’ loved a good meal and what the gays had created here in general in Rehoboth. It was very shabby chic, and the gays were a big part of that.”
Davison says recently elected Mayor Paul Kuhns supports both the business and the gay communities in Rehoboth.
“We have a really good, progressive guy in there,” Davison says. “He’s smart.”
Bad Hair Day? has engaged in several memorable Delaware partnerships over the last 27 years — such as always having Dolle’s Salt Water Taffy in the shop, color-coordinated with each season. Other standout partnerships are those Davison has with Dogfish Head and Surf Bagel.
“Early on, I would make body scrubs and masks out of the Aprihop beer ingredients,” he says. “And you could always have a Dogfish beer poured over your head as a shampoo bowl. We also serve beer in the shop, but we don’t call it ‘beer.’ We say, ‘Would you like a Dogfish?’”
Surf Bagel’s coffee and bagels are served at the salon when it is safe to serve food there. Bad Hair Day? also has begun a collaboration with Surf Bagel and the new Sussex County Consortium School, which aims to open satellite businesses attached to the schools to give students actual business experiences.
“We were set to open a little salon next to Surf Bagel (at the Consortium), when along came COVID,” Davison says.
The connection with Delaware has always been palpable for Davison.
“It’s home, first and foremost,” he says. “It’s accessible — you can find yourself at a red light next to the governor. I love that it’s a small state and that it’s the first state. I love that it’s a community, small enough that we can know each other.”
On top of such connections being possible in such a small state, Davison loves that each of the state’s three counties has its own flavor.
“New Castle County has corporate and banking, but it also has the richness and splendor of the du Ponts who were such awesome stewards of their wealth,” he says. “Kent County has a richness of colonialism, the John Dickinson Mansion and the signing of the Constitution and The Green and the maypole dancing. Sussex County is like the little beach resort Riviera of the state, with its own culture and influx from all of the surrounding cities beyond Delaware. Throw in the cultural experiences we’ve had here, which we’ve always had in the north of the state, but now we also have in the Biggs Museum in Dover and the Freeman Stage in Selbyville.”
Bad Hair Day? moved to an immense new building in Rehoboth in 2016, with 16 stations almost always booked. The moment the full COVID-19 lockdown on salons was lifted, Drexel’s phone began to explode.
“The first text I got was from Mariah Calagione,” he says, “and then they just kept coming.”