Industries see surge after states reopen
Haircuts. 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.
Salons in Pennsylvania have been open for a few weeks now. Jodi Hlastala, the owner of Studio 412 in Uniontown, said it’s been “a pretty easy transition.”
“The first four weeks, it was extremely busy to try to get our clients in,” she said. “We have had to turn a lot of new people away because we wanted to give priority to our clients.”
With three stylists and one nail technician, they had to move their stations apart a little bit further to ensure social distancing. Everyone has to wear masks and the nail technician keeps Plexiglas between her and her client.
“She cleans it between each client,” Hlastala said. “It hasn’t been bad having masks. Even without the virus, people are going to cough or sneeze, and it’s just nice to have the mask there.”
They can’t take walk-ins anymore, as everything must be by appointment. Also, they can only service one client at a time, but Hlastala said that gives them more time to disinfect everything and reconnect with their clients.
“We’ve just been following all the guidelines,” she said. “We feel pretty safe. We’re pretty close to our clients, and I haven’t heard of any of ours having coronavirus.”
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.
Closing down the Rustic Roots Salon in Lake Placid didn’t mean no work for owner Amber Herzog over two-and-a-half months. With no way of knowing when her business would be allowed to reopen, she got a job at a Hannaford supermarket.
“Thankfully, my overhead is not super crazy,” she said of being able to keep her business location on Saranac Avenue.
Rustic Roots reopened June 3 as part of Phase 2 of New York’s reopening plan. Herzog was able to go back to the salon full-time, though she and the three part-time stylists with whom she works have to align their schedules to meet reduced occupancy requirements.
“We basically can only have one stylist and one client in at a time,” she said.
Stylists must wear masks and a face shield or goggles, while clients are required to wear masks as well, Herzog said. Their region of New York is now in Phase 4 of reopening, but during Phases 2 and 3, stylists had to be tested for the coronavirus every 14 days.
“We’re still booked out until the end of this month, just to play catch-up,” Herzog said. “I definitely have heard that … we should be essential more than once.”
In Gloversville, Erin Hollenbeck had to stop offering massage therapy through the business she co-owns, Serenity Now, until mid-June, but she kept her full-time job at a nursing home. Massage therapists are also required to be tested for the virus every two weeks, but Hollenbeck is tested weekly because of her other occupation.
Massage therapy was not initially included in the state reopening schedule, but thanks to the lobbying efforts of the New York chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association, the industry was placed in Phase 3, Hollenbeck said.
“I was able to get all my clients back in my first week,” she said. “I probably did 15 massages in three days.”
Most of her clients come to her for medical reasons, Hollenbeck said. None have had an issue with the requirement that they wear masks while being treated.
“Because they knew that to get the massage, they had to do it,” she said.
Massage therapists must wear masks and goggles. They are not allowed to give facial massages, sometimes used to address sinus issues, and they must change the sheet on the table after a client uses it. Hollenbeck said she also disinfects the table underneath the sheet.
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.
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.