Hair cuts. Massages. Tattoos. Pedicures. Manicures. These were just some of the luxuries lost as businesses faced mandatory shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet as states began to reopen last month, most areas saw the resurgence of these businesses as longtime customers clamored to receive their self-care services. Take Mitch Brewer, who owns Bad Habits Barbershop in Norwalk, Ohio. Upon opening the doors to his business again, he said recently that the public’s response was something he categorized as “overwhelming.”
“Our first days back were a Friday and Saturday and it was absolute mayhem,” Brewer said. “Once we started back up, we’ve been getting an overwhelming number of people.”
Is Brewer’s experience similar to other likeminded businesses across America? Ogden Newspapers spoke with business owners in 14 states to gauge how the reopening process has been as they work around masks, sanitize massage tables and keep their shops as clean — and as socially distanced — as possible. The following is what we found.
Elizabeth Storms has been doing hair for 40 years. She’s one of five stylists at Hair Sculptors Salon in Leesburg, Virginia, which opened up for clients June 6.
“It was pretty chaotic because everybody wanted to come in at the same time,” she said. “Many of us had to work late into the evening, 11 at night.”
At first, Storms said, it was difficult to convince clients they had to wear masks during their appointments.
“We just had to continue to encourage them,” she said.
Sometimes the masks accidentally get cut with the hair, she said, and sometimes they get hair coloring on them.
“I stocked up on disposable masks, just in case,” Storms said.
Storms said she’s getting many new clients, people who couldn’t get an appointment with their typical hairdresser or people who are looking for a stylist near their home as opposed to their office or workplace.
Chad Stradwick would have preferred to wait to reopen Stradwick’s Fade Cave in Wheeling, but economic realities gave him little choice but to follow suit when barbershops, hair and nail salons and massage businesses got the go-ahead from the state to reopen in May.
“If I could still be closed to this day and not have any financial repercussions or worries, I would be closed right now,” he said.
Stradwick opened his business two years ago, providing appointment-only advanced barbering to customers in a 50-60-mile radius. When non-essential businesses were closed in late March, he’d been saving up money to take some time off for the birth of his fourth child.
“Had the stimulus not come or I didn’t have any savings, I would have had to go get an essential job or something,” he said.
Stradwick made it through eight weeks of his business being closed. But with his mother, wife and one child at higher risk for contracting COVID-19 because of underlying health issues, going back to work still had him concerned.
He turned to eBay and paid a premium to purchase a half-face respirator mask and cartridges manufactured by 3M, which he said are usually reserved for medical personnel. Stradwick said he wanted to make sure he had a “full seal” to keep the virus out, given there is still a lot of uncertainty about how exactly it is spread.
“I kind of look like I’m a mad scientist when I’m cutting hair,” he said.
That also required shaving his 8-inch beard, of which he was particularly fond.
“It’s like, ‘OK, protect your family or lose your beard?’ So that was an easy decision for me,” Stradwick said.
Stradwick said he received offers from customers willing to pay hefty amounts to get their hair cut while he was closed, but he turned them down. Now that he’s reopened, he stays busy.
In the past, friends might come to shoot the breeze or a customer’s family might sit with them. Now, Stradwick only allows one customer each for him and the cosmetologist who rents a booth there. Customers are required to wear a mask, but can remove it when they get a shave.
“When I’m performing the service on their face, I request that they don’t speak,” he said.
Some clients of Six East Salon and Spa in Frederick are still concerned about venturing out to have their hair cut, colored and styled. Owner Judy Cicala said she and her staff, some of whom have family members whose health conditions put them at greater risk from the disease, understand and are doing everything they can to protect themselves and their customers.
“It’s a matter of just caring about the people around you,” she said. “The reason a lot of our clients are coming back is because they know we’re taking, I feel, the right precautions.”
Customers are emailed a reminder of the salon’s protocols before their appointments. Clients must wear a mask, enter through the back and exit through the front, helping the staff manage the number of people in the building.
“If someone is not willing to wear a mask, then we nicely tell them we cannot do their hair,” Cicala said.
But that hasn’t happened yet. Only one client didn’t bring their own mask, and the salon provided one.
People are asked not to bring many personal items, including the large purses many favor, Cicala said.
If people do bring personal items, they are placed in a container that is sanitized after they’re removed.
Employees get their temperatures taken, wear masks and face shields and clean their stations between clients.
Some rooms not being used in the spa area have been set up as private stations for customers that might be immunocompromised or more concerned about a possible infection, Cicala said.
Six East opened on May 30 after being closed since mid-March.
“We opened with allowing our health care workers who are existing clients to make appointments first,” Cicala said. “We were super, super busy for the first six weeks. It has slowed down.”
For questions that the state government couldn’t immediately answer, they turned to fellow stylists in other states that had reopened earlier, such as Georgia, Cicala said. Some of the information-sharing was facilitated by vendors like Bumble and bumble and Oribe.
“We did video chats around the country,” she said.