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.
“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 moveon.org 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.”