Hair salons reopen with many changes

15 min read
Hair salons reopen with many changes

 Many state reopening protocols list similar precautions. In addition to checking workers for symptoms, salons are making face masks mandatory; requiring stylists to thoroughly wash their hands and disinfect tools and surfaces between clients; asking customers to come the salon alone and wait in their cars until their appointment time, limiting or discontinuing the use of blow dryers for fear the devices may spread respiratory droplets through the air.

Still, some salon owners question whether the guidance is sufficient. Rachel Palmer, an owner in Longmont, Colo., wonders, for example, whether stylists should be wearing face shields to cover their eyes.

“But more than anything, the ongoing recommendations from medical professionals for six-feet distancing makes me, and those who see it the way I do, wonder at how we can be guided to open at all,” she said. For the time being at least, Palmer has decided to keep her salon closed.

 Stylist and owner Lisa Connolly, on the other hand, reopened her salon, Sweeping Fringe in Palm Harbor, Fla., about two weeks ago. She is requiring temperature checks to make sure no one is feverish before they sit in her chair, has cut the number of stylists in her salon roughly in half and has spaced chairs seven feet apart. She’s also requiring 15 minutes between appointments to disinfect all surfaces. “I’ve been working extra days so I can spread out the clients, just to get caught up with everyone, and we’re almost there,” she said.

Tonya Fairley, stylist and owner of Strandz on Grand in Covina, Calif., said last week that she was planning to reopen the first week of June. Even with significant protocol changes planned, she was been hearing from eager clients. “This morning, I woke up to seven emails,” she said. “Clients are like, ‘It says [you open] the first week of June. Can I book my appointment for June 2?’ The excitement is definitely there.”

Fairley said she’s also reduced the number of people in the salon at the same time by roughly half. “There’s only one client per stylist,” she said. Typically, stylists double or triple book, but that practice has been eliminated, for the time being. “We have all disposable coverings and capes, which is something we never had before,” she said. “We typically have capes and drapes you can throw in the washing machine, and we have plenty to last throughout the day, but we chose to move to disposables just to make it easier and more sanitary.”

 Most of the frills of the salon experience are also gone, and some of the personal touches, as well, said Fairley. “We’ve removed the coffee station, magazines, candy dishes, all communal stuff — you know, the stuff that makes a salon fun,” Fairley said. “We’ve all talked about how we want clients to have a good experience. We still want them to talk to us. But we just have to limit the [areas] where we talk to them.” 

Fairley is no longer chatting with clients over the shampoo bowl, for example, because talking may increase the risk of emitting respiratory droplets. “My little message to them says, ‘At the shampoo bowl, you’re going to take this time to relax — no talking,’” she said. “That’s for us, too, so that we’re not talking over them.” 

Barber shops aren’t known for head-massaging shampoos and blow drying, but they’re making changes, too. Adal Castellon Jr., owner of Spanish Fly Barbershop in Louisville, reopened at the end of May. He was ready to be back and missed his clients and fellow barbers. But much has changed. 

 All visits are now appointment-only, and new protocols include including temperature checks for barbers, freshly laundered capes for each client and stricter sanitization of tools, chairs, handles and more. Only two barbers will work at the same time in the three-chair shop.

Castellon is especially rueful about one change. “Because there is so much sanitizing and setting up for the next client,” he said, “we are kind of limiting the chatting we have with our clients — which is actually really hard. We are a very personal shop.” Before the pandemic, he said, he kept guitars in the shop, and clients would linger to chat and play or listen to the music. “It has been an adjustment to just be strictly business,” he said.  

 Despite the new procedures, some clients are not ready to return and some stylists aren’t completely comfortable. Although he’s working again, Mike Munoz, a hairstylist in Denver has been “a little conflicted,” he said. “Hopefully, people have done what they should have been doing with social distancing and safety.”

Munoz has been following state-issued guidelines “to a T,” he said. “We’ve lengthened out service times; if a haircut takes one hour, we book one hour and 30 minutes. We use the extended service times to really sanitize and disinfect everything they touch. Wipe down shampoo bowls, pens and the credit card dispenser, disinfect combs and cutting utensils.” 

But that hasn’t eliminated all his concern. “I want people to understand that the stylist is putting themselves at risk to offer that service, so it’s important that the people coming to get that service stick to the safety guidelines — wearing a mark, social distancing, not mixing,” Munoz said. “I’m coming into contact with everyone you’ve come into contact with. I live with my 80-year-old mom, who has COPD and is on oxygen.”

As far as the public’s safety, Steve Sleeper, executive director of the Professional Beauty Association (PBA), said stylists are licensed, trained professionals already accustomed to following safety protocols and sanitization routines. “This industry is responsive,” said Sleeper. “They are taking appropriate, smart steps to do this safely, but to also allow small businesses to get back open. Many [salons] are very small, and they’re struggling like everyone else. You can’t do pickup orders for hair.”

The PBA has been issuing guidance to members and governor’s offices on new protocols. It supports having customers wait in cars for appointment times, establishing touchless payment systems and eliminating double-booking, Sleeper said. But it hasn’t taken a stance on blow-dryers, because it hasn’t seen evidence that using them spreads infection.

He noted some salons have eliminated blow drying for another reason: to make appointments move more quickly. Some businesses are also omitting shampooing and asking clients to show up with clean, wet hair. “They are operating at reduced capacity,” he said.
“Their volume is down due to the spacing, one client per customer; you can’t double book. They are trying to figure out ways to make up for that.” He says the salon experience will be more streamlined and efficient for a while.

As the cellphone data showed, many customers are willing to make such sacrifices to get their hair back in shape. “I’ve been going to the same girl for years, and I trust she’s taking the right precautions,” said Kirstie Taylor, a writer from Los Angeles. “I definitely need a cut. My hair is shortish in general, but to me, it’s long. Plus, I’ve been wanting to change up the color.”

And, said Fairley, some customers may just be looking forward for a chance to talk. “People often refer to us just as hairdressers, but we’re not,” she said. “Clients call us and want to come see us, because they’re having problems in their marriage, their kids are acting up, they’re having problems at work. We serve as counselors.”

 In some cases, however, it’s the person on the other end of the scissors who is eager to socialize again. Eighty-two-year-old David Shwaery, owner of Squires Salon and Day Spa in Providence, R.I., opened his salon in 1958, and once maintained a staff of 28. Today, he has just a few stylists in a smaller location near the Brown University campus.

Shwaery said he loves the creative aspects of his job. “But I miss, mostly, the interaction with my clientele,” which includes students and professors at Brown, he said. “They’ve taught me so much in my life.” The octogenarian said he’s not at all nervous about going back to work. “I’ve been looking forward to it,” he said.

Birch is a journalist based in Michigan.

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