Innovation has been key to survival for small businesses in 2020. The coronavirus has caused sweeping changes to business practices, while bringing phrases like “contactless” or “socially distanced” into everyday vernacular.
But for hair stylists at salons and barbershops, there is no way to provide their service in a virtual world. From the onset of the pandemic, salons have faced multiple shutdowns due to changes in local health orders. After closing for two months from March-May, shops were able to re-open for a few months before another spike in cases caused a round of closures in July.
Salons were again permitted to re-open their doors in early September, but with only 25 percent of their usual capacity. While salon owners are glad to be back in business, the limitations have caused financial strain. Even though customer capacity is reduced to 25 percent, the cost of operating a business is not.
“That’s been the most devastating thing for every single salon out there. This 25 percent capacity is killing us,” said Scott Shelton, who owns Dean Anthony Salon on Second Street with his wife, Michelle. “When we reopen our doors, our landlords are expecting us to pay 100 percent of the rent. Plus you have to pay 100 percent of your staff, from front desk to cleaning, while we’re only able to generate 25 percent of our income. Most salons, even at full capacity, are either just getting by or in the red. With 25 percent capacity, every month we’re open it’s just putting us further into debt.”
During the shutdowns, the stylists at Dean Anthony were fortunate to be commissioned employees of the salon. Rather than working as independent contractors who rent a space to see their clients, they are full-time employees of the salon. That meant they’ve been able to receive unemployment assistance while out of work.
On the other hand, many stylists around the city did not have the luxury of being commissioned employees. During the first round of closures, CARES Act funding helped cover the loss in pay for stylists working as independent contractors. However, once the additional unemployment assistance was gone, and the second shutdown arrived, those stylists had to be resourceful in order to serve their clients.
Lisa Dunning has spent the last decade as a stylist at Jackson W Salon on Naples Island, and she was among the large contingent of stylists who were forced to expand their horizons to continue to work.
“I think most of us did house calls, because that was our only way to work,” Dunning explained. “We did a lot of backyard haircuts, which was challenging. Fortunately, I have a clientele of about 12 years, so they were more than happy to have me come over. People were super accommodating in that sense, but it’s obviously not ideal.”
Dunning was forced to become her own mobile salon, investing in new cordless equipment and working her way across the city to visit her clients. Furthermore, without the standard equipment of a salon, the job itself became more challenging. Rather than bringing a client over to a sink to rinse out their new color, she’d have to wait for them to take a shower and then return to the chair.
“I could really only do one per day, so I had to work seven days a week going to one house per day,” Dunning said. “But there’s such a community in Long Beach, and I think everyone was on the same page and wanted to help each other out in any way they could. I really appreciated it.”
Now that the salon is back open, things have become more consistent, but there are different challenges. Due to limited capacity, the stylists at Jackson W have had to be very communicative about their schedules in order to share the salon. Especially since all the stylists have kids at home, finding an equitable balance in the schedule hasn’t been easy. Dunning, for one, has transitioned from seeing one client every day doing house calls, to working two very long days at the salon.
“The clients are super understanding just with everything going on. They know they can’t get in right away,” she explained. “It’s been great, I’m happy to be back.”