The altercation was caught on surveillance and cell phone video at Blue Bell Nails on O Street in the Shaw neighborhood.
The salon says the customer and her friend got the works: manicures, pedicures, nail art and massages racking up a $200 bill. One woman left, the other was supposed to pay, but the owners say the card was declined.
"This is when the customer started getting a little bit agitated," said co-owner Ryan Kim. "She started complaining about the service that was already done, saying that our machine was faulty."
Kim said after the woman’s debit card was declined, she said she would go get cash, with the salon telling her to leave her bags behind as collateral. But he says when she returned she only had a bank receipt to prove she had money on the card.
Employees called police and locked the doors. When the woman tried to leave, the situation got physical with Kim’s mother, Jean. Video shows Jean trying to stop the woman from leaving and getting knocked around and hit. It ends with Jean on the ground outside of the salon hanging on to the woman’s bag as she tries to take it back.
"To be honest, I still can’t watch the whole video," said Kim.
Kim wasn’t there at the time and says he told his mother next time to let the customer leave because it’s not worth her life.
"It was hard for her to see how hard our employees worked for the service and not get any money for it," he said.
In the midst of it all, Kim says a stranger walking by stopped to make sure his mom was OK. You can’t see him in the cell phone video, but you can hear him offering to pay the tab and telling the customer to go.
"He just threw down the cash and left," said Kim. "And amidst all the chaos, unfortunately we never got to thank this person."
Jean tells Fox5 what happened was "crazy" and said in addition to a hospital visit and a bandaged finger, she is sore and bruised.
The Kims say it’s far from the first time someone has left without paying, and it’s even harder now with their revenue a fraction of what it was due to the pandemic. But they say what this anonymous person did restores their faith in humanity.
"We are eternally grateful," said Kim.
D.C. Police arrived and took a report after the customer had left.