Jennifer Parker didn’t start out wanting to own her own business. In fact, she had no idea what she wanted to do.

“But I knew I was ready for a change,” she said.

Comfortable but ultimately unfulfilled, Parker had been in the same corporate management job for about 15 years when the opportunity came to accept a buyout. She was terrified, but she decided to take it.

At 44 years old, Parker bought an old high top van, set it up like a small home and decided to do some traveling before settling on what to do next.

For four months, she traveled from coast to coast, even dipping into Mexico, and then grabbed a backpack, bought a plane ticket and a three-month Eurail pass and flew to Europe, traveling to more than 20 countries in 93 days.

This was an especially revelatory experience for Parker, who had grown up poor and eventually ended up in foster care as a kid. She’d never had an opportunity to travel like that.

“My journey ended with a renewed sense of self and a feeling of empowerment I had never felt before, but I was also almost broke and had to be a ‘responsible adult’ again,” she said.

In May, Parker officially opened a business, Vibes Nails and Lotion Bar, in downtown Johnson City. She recently spoke to the Johnson City Press about her shop and what it’s been like operating a small business in the middle of a pandemic.

What made you decide that you wanted to own and operate your own business?

I knew I wanted to do something I absolutely loved, so I started nail school. It wasn’t until a young girl told me that the nails I had done for her made her feel powerful that I really knew I had found my calling. I mean, wow, who gets to make women feel powerful for a living? With my previous management experience it only made sense to open my own place. Before I really knew what happened, I had signed a lease and was on my way to opening my own shop.

What should people know about Vibes Nails and Lotion Bar?

We embrace individuality and believe nails should be a way for you to express yourself. When you come into Vibes, you never know what kind of music will be playing or what kind of conversations you may get into, but you’ll always be able to count on having a nail tech that loves what they do and wants you to love your nails when you leave. We also have some awesome smelling lotions. Our new fall scents are addictive!

Why did you decide on downtown Johnson City?

I really enjoy the fun, diverse and creative energy of downtown. Different is good. We all benefit from it!

What has it been like opening and operating a business during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Stressful and scary! But if I have learned anything over the last couple years it is that you can’t let fear paralyze you. Instead, let it motivate you to work harder for what you really want. You have to recognize the challenges you face, and you implement a plan to face them head on. With COVID-19, we focus on providing a sanitary environment and taking the necessary precautions to protect our clients and our techs.

What is one misconception people have about what it’s like trying to run a business — especially now?

People think it’s hard to start a new business, but in reality … it’s REALLY hard. You pour your heart, soul, body and life savings into what you do — all in the hope you’ll be successful. At the end of the day, all you can do is do your best with integrity and know you are not alone. There are so many wonderful and supportive people in our community.

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