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The reopening: Barber shops, salons see surge in business

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 across the country 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.

Ohio

In Norwalk, Ohio, Bad Habits Barbershop was in full swing again once the state reopened. Norwalk is the seat for Huron County, one of the seven counties Gov. Mike DeWine announced Tuesday were hardest hit by COVID-19.

Owner Mitch Brewer said the new order mandating masks to be worn in public has hurt his business, as no beards can be cut if masks can’t come off.

While Brewer himself won’t have to constantly wear a mask due to his asthma, masks are now to be worn inside public spaces until the county’s outbreaks lessen.

Brewer opened Bad Habits in September and because he’s self-employed, he was denied unemployment.

“We can’t cut beards, (can’t do) the hot lather, we can’t do anything like that,” Brewer said. “I’ve already had multiple clients cancel with me because of that reason.”

He said his shop has received a lot of backlash from community members who disagree with the mandate.

“Different members of the community are acting like this is our rule, but in reality, it’s not – we are just being forced to abide by it,” he said. “My biggest worry is if I allow my barbers to be comfortable and cut how they want without a mask, I have to worry about the state board coming and shutting me down.”

Brewer went on to explain that his barber chairs are sanitized after every client. Also included in his shop’s precautions are barbers wearing gloves and the shop having a rotation to clean doorknobs and light switches. No one is allowed to wait inside the shop, and only one customer is allowed in at a time.

“You have to wait in your vehicle or out on the porch and you have to wait for us to call or text you and say it’s your turn to come in,” he said. “We’re doing the best we can to keep our people safe.”

Brewer said he worries that the mask mandate will be problematic as the summer goes on.

“I don’t think it should be mandated for every soul to have to wear it, not by any means, especially in this heat,” he said. “There’s numerous things said by doctors recently that you should not wear a mask in the humidity. People are going to be getting heatstroke.”

In Salem, Beauty on Broadway being closed was “a very lonely time,” owner Shelby Shambabh said.

“To go away from our clients and our team, that was a rough deal for all of us,” she said.

One of the struggles she faced with reopening her salon was having to do so on such short notice.

“Our salon is designed a certain way and now we had to rearrange all that, things had to be reconstructed and there was no help for that,” she said. “They only gave us six days to get ready. As a team, we went out and shopped. It was tough. You hadn’t worked for two months and have to spend all this money on rearranging, cleaning supplies, rerouting electrical. It was not fun.”

While Shambabh owns Beauty on Broadway, the other cosmetologists rent their space in her shop.

“As soon as we shut down, I stopped their rent,” she said. “I couldn’t sleep at night knowing they were struggling to pay me. Being the owner and having so many faces looking at me, asking what we were going to do, it was hard.”

She said the salon’s cleaning routine has always been very regimented before the COVID-19 outbreak, but wearing masks is new and hairdressers can only see one client at a time.

“Only seeing one customer at a time lessened our income, and we weren’t able to do our business the way we normally do,” Shambabh said. “We had to make people listen to us if they came in without a mask. Being an authority, that changed our environment a little bit. Normally, it’s very friendly and open.”

For now, the masks remain on staff and they see one client at a time. Shambabh said as the weeks have gone on being reopened, people are getting more comfortable with the regulations in place and they seem less anxious about coming in.

She said when Beauty on Broadway reopened, she saw an increase of new clients and business was busier than ever.

“We work because we love what we do,” she said. “Work is fun and we enjoy our job. To be away from all that and to come back makes us love it more. I’m not saying I’m happy we closed, but it makes you love your job that much more. We’re back doing what we love, even if we just have to do it a little differently.”

PENNSYLVANIA

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.”

MARYLAND

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.

VIRGINIA

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.

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