People are flocking to hair salons and barbershops after going without for six weeks, much to the relief and happiness of salon owners.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott initially announced hair-cutting establishments would reopen May 18, then on Tuesday bumped up their opening date to Friday. Other businesses, including gyms and bars, remain closed under statewide measures. Salons must sanitize each station between customers and reduce their capacity, while owners and customers alike are encouraged to wear face coverings. Local salon owners said strict sanitation is baked into the profession, making the new safety measures easy enough to adopt.
Cutting Edge Salon owner Cherie Hudson said March marked the first time she has had to close her doors in 20 years.
“The minute Gov. Abbott made the announcement, both lines were blowing up, our Facebook page was blowing up,” Hudson said. “We have six weeks of clients waiting in the wings.”
Hudson said the high demand for salon services during a pandemic makes sense, not just in spite of the ways the pandemic has affected society, but because of it.
“Our profession, as a whole, even survived the Great Depression,” Hudson said. “It revolves around how you feel. Getting your hair done, having someone talk to you, it’s comforting. It makes you feel better about yourself. I think it has to do with a lot more than vanity. In this time when everyone is so nervous and scared of what’s going on, it’s a comfort zone.”
Hudson spent her Thursday setting up sanitizing stations and organizing masks for her 19 employees. However, she put off reopening until Monday to give herself time to prepare.
“I felt like we needed more time to do it right to make sure we did everything right and the salon was clean,” Hudson said.
Most of the changes will be simple enough for the salon to make, she said. Clients will wait in their cars in the parking lot before appointments, and because Cutting Edge is an education salon, very few stylists double-book.
“The biggest challenge, possibly, is going to be the clients wearing masks,” Hudson said. “Obviously, when you’re doing a haircut, color or shampoo, you can’t have them around their ears.”
She bought acrylic face covers that clients can hold up in front of their faces in place of masks, and she plans to use towels to cover clients’ faces during shampoos.
“There are ways to work around it,” Hudson said. “We’re getting very creative.”
Penny Kolar, owner of Trendz Salon in Woodway, said closing was hard on her and her three employees. Kolar said she estimates she spent about $1,500 in preparing to reopen her 2,000-square-foot salon, including the purchase of towels, masks, capes and other equipment. In her opinion, salons were unfairly maligned in the lead-up to their closures, then ignored by most relief efforts.
“The hairdressing community was definitely overlooked,” Kolar said. “We were overlooked, for the education we have and our ability to handle this situation. I feel like some of the decisions made were very unfair, but I’m glad to be back in business now.”
She said unemployment insurance, already difficult to acquire because so many people are out of work, is “a joke” for hair stylists, and financial assistance is difficult for salons to attain.
“Hair stylists, we have 1,500 hours of sanitization and sterilization training and education on procedures to handle this type of situation,” Kolar said. “We even have to take continuing education every two years, a six-hour course dedicated to sanitization.”
Kolar said in that sense, measures taken by other businesses because of COVID-19 are nothing new to hair stylists.
“We know the difference between sterilization, sanitization and disinfecting, and how to prevent the spread of bacteria, viruses and fungi,” Kolar said. “What really upset me is that we were the very last people to be allowed to open.”
Kevin Gritten, owner of Champions Salon and Barber, said his shop had been preparing for a reopening for weeks before the May 18 date was announced, but he was still caught off guard when the governor opted to bump up the start date for stylists.
“I needed a light at the end of the tunnel, so we already had our shop disinfected and rearranged,” Gritten said. “When he came back out and said we could reopen on the 8th, it was go-time for us. Within 3 hours, we had our entire staff for Friday booked solid.”
Gritten said Champions expanded its hours to cope with the demand and the new safety regulations that add time to the process for each customer. He said the barber shop averages 1,700 customers during a normal month and employs 12 stylists and four front-of-house workers.
“Right now, we have everybody here,” Gritten said.
The first day back was busy from start to finish, he said. Extra front-of-house employees are manning the makeshift waiting area in front of the store, designed to reduce crowding. Inside the business, stylists sweep hair and clean stations between clients. Customers and employees alike wear masks, though the former sometimes have to remove them for parts of the appointment. Champions caters primarily to men, who have to remove their masks for beard work.
“We have extra clippers, extra scissors,” Gritten said. “Honestly, it’s been very smooth to tell you the truth. It’s nothing very out of the ordinary from what we were already doing.”
He said customers have been understanding about the new rules, and he finds the governor’s requirements to be reasonable.
“I made a joke and told somebody that if I had to do the Hokey Pokey before I could cut hair, I would do the Hokey Pokey,” Gritten said. “That’s how happy we are to come back and be working again.”
Hannah Gore, owner of On the Avenue Salon and Blowout Bar, said she felt as though normal life was on pause when she could not see the 16 employees she considers her second family. The salon received some funding from the federal Paycheck Protection Program last week and received some aid from a Melody Ranch fundraiser to help pay the salon’s rent, but Gore had to lay off all of her employees, who struggled to file for unemployment alongside everyone else in the state who found themselves out of work.
“It’s a little bit rushed now because we were preparing for the 18th, but when they moved the date up it basically gave me two days to get all this stuff together,” Gore said.
Since then, she and her staff have been busy sanitizing the store, decluttering and rearranging stations, and rescheduling appointments for people who were booked before the closures. After that, they will start to think about booking new clients.
Gore said On The Avenue, located on Austin Avenue, has limited parking, so the staff created an outdoor waiting area. For lash extensions, masks will be mandatory, and the salon has removed massages from the menu as a precaution.
“The only time (a client) wouldn’t wear one (a mask) is if they were getting a facial service, but I don’t see many people booking them right now,” Gore said. “Mostly, people are just looking for hair appointments.”
Scheduling rules will be adjusted to ensure stylists have enough time to sanitize their station between clients. Double booking will not be allowed, though even under normal conditions, only some stylists are comfortable working with two clients at the same time, Gore said.
“For some of our staff that are used to double-booking, it’s a little bit of a change,” Gore said. “I’m used to double, sometimes triple booking. I’m used to the chaos of juggling several people and tripling my revenue, but I won’t have that opportunity. I think it will keep people safer.”