By Melba Newsome

Spa and salons are just some of the many North Carolina businesses that have been put on ice to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Roy Cooper’s March 23 announcement that salons, barbershops, nail parlors and gyms would have to close their doors to slow the spread of the virus did not come as a surprise for most cosmetologists. Given the restrictions placed on restaurants and bars to enforce social distancing, it was inevitable that hands-on personal services businesses would follow suit. It simply isn’t possible to stay six feet away from clients while doing their nails or hair, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.

The struggle to maintain stringent cleaning guidelines under which salons were already operating made the suspension-of-business order feel almost like a relief to some.

graphic including an image of coronavirus

“We were constantly cleaning and wiping down between customers,” said Charlotte cosmetologist Leslie, who requested to use her first name only. “It was hard to keep up with it because there were so many people coming in to get ready for us to shut down.

“We had also stopped giving our customers drinks and snacks like we usually did.”


The coronavirus recession is rapidly reshaping the personal services economy, creating a black market of hair stylists, nail technicians and trainers catering to people who still want to look their best even when simple grooming can spread COVID-19. Beauty publication Salon Today produced a webinar about ways hard-pressed stylists can manage business hardships.

Brown, who’s been a hairstylist for more than two decades, has seen a lot of economic ups and downs but she says this time is different. During prior economic slowdowns, when some customers were forced to scale back or eliminate their services to save money, she made modest adjustments to wait out the downturn.

But it’s not possible to compensate when there are no customers.

The North Carolina State Board of Cosmetic Art Examiners posted a reminder on its website that violations are a Class II misdemeanor and may be subject to prosecution and punishment, including “licensure repercussions.”

Leslie is using the shutdown to get a natural bath and body business up and running but believes that many in her profession who don’t have that luxury are willing to defy stay-at-home restrictions in order to pay the bills.

Charlotte Cool Cave Day Spa owner Cheree-Alexia Hercule was cited after police received a tip that the business continued to operate as a massage and day spa. Officers initially warned Hercule that the business was in violation of the order and asked her to close the facility. When the business continued to serve clients a day later, officers issued a citation.

Cutting both ways

As the number of diagnosed COVID-19 cases and deaths continues to grow,  Cooper’s statewide stay-at-home directive is likely to be extended beyond the initial April 29 date. Nearly a month into the closedown, that makes stylists antsy and in search of a way to get their businesses up and running again.

Keisha Lindsay who runs The Beauty Shop in King, N.C. started a petition asking the governor to approve a “soft opening” that would only allow cosmetologists to service one customer at a time. The petition says hair salons should be allowed to open with one client per stylist in the salon at a time and both people would be required to wear proper personal protection equipment, including masks and gloves. The petition, which doesn’t address how salons with several operators would handle this, had garnered 5,200 signatures by Tuesday afternoon.

“I can do this safely. My clients need me physically and emotionally,” read a comment signed ‘Lisa K.’ “This is my only source of income and what I have been doing for 37 years. I need to get back to my job to help support my family of 6.”

South Carolina salons closed on April 1. Amy Howie’s petition already has a half-million signatures for her petition asking Gov.  Henry McMaster to recognize stylists as a professional industry deemed an essential business.

“Everyone’s job is essential to them and their family if you factor in that it is their livelihood, pays their bills and feeds their family,” said Howie.

But some stylists are opposed.

Chapel Hill salon owner David Sutton took to Facebook to make his position clear. He likened cutting hair during the pandemic to firing a loaded gun in his direction while blindfolded.

“That is the value you place on both our lives when you ask me to cut your hair outside in your backyard right now,” he wrote.

“I do not want to kill you and I sure as shit don’t want to die in two weeks after getting covid-19. So, please, just don’t ask. It’s really hard for me to say no to you. It’s hard for me to be this broke. But I’m willing to make the sacrifice.”

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Melba Newsome is an award-winning freelance writer with more than 20 years' experience reporting on news and features. Her feature credits in many prominent publications including the New York Times, Bloomberg...

11 replies on “Spas, salons seek a way back from COVID closures”

  1. Please let the salons open up WITH cautions set in place for the stylists and clients. Thank you.
    Sylvia Polston

  2. ‘“Everyone’s job is essential to them and their family if you factor in that it is their livelihood, pays their bills and feeds their family,” said Howie.’

    The stupidity of this statement kills me. EVERYONE considers their own job to essential because it’s their livelihood. If everyone petitioned to have their jobs opened back up as essential then NO ONE would be closed now would they? People are not using common sense. I’m a stylist and want to get back to work too. But, how is it helping anyone to go back to work, just to see a rise in cases because people are not taking this seriously by following guidelines(and you KNOW that many people aren’t) and have to shut back down again a month later?

  3. We are the ONLY businesses who have taken extra classes ON Sanitation and Disinfecting classes on our Down time to improve the safety and well being of our staff and clientele. So while police officers, firefighters- state and Senate constituents get haircuts bc YOU have to look good- is something we Cosmetologist Do Speak of and quite frankly find ironic on when We get a Call to duty based YOUR in front of camera beauty. This is a concern and one this industry will focus on.
    Make a decision. Give your reasons but DO NOT GET PRETTY FOR THE CAMERA on my mandatory time off.
    I’m going to stay shut because I want to feel safe. But this is crap.

  4. Salons in S.C. need to open! I’ve been doing hair in my salon for over 30 years I’ve had to shut the door.
    Mcmaster needs to make a decision and stick to it . I’ve also been hit with a freaking tornado! Nobody seems to give a crap because they are sitting home drawing a check, but not me.

    1. If you and your clients both wear surgical gowns, masks, gloves and face shield it might be safe to open your salon.But, even wearing all that protection many health care workers got the coronavirus and some died.

  5. So again when will the salons be opened. These people depend on their clients for income.

  6. I want to know if salons —hair, nails, face, etc cannot open WHY is there not a mandate on dental offices opening for non essential services ie cleanings and non emergency restorative work to be done??? I am expected to go back to work and work in peoples mouth all day long!! I understand dental emergencies ie getting people out of pain BUT cleanings , fillings, crowns??? I could have that done in my own mouth right now BUT I wouldn’t at this point! I truly think dental offices need to be closely looked at!!

  7. No its too soon. In this area outside vacationers and outside residents flock back to the mountains. Some may bring the virus with them. Give a little more time.

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