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Massage parlors, barber shops, salons see surge in business

The Reopening: Massage parlors, barber shops and salons see surge in business as they reopen their doors after months of being shut down

By Ogden Newspapers

Hair cuts. Massages. Tattoos. Pedicures. Manicures. These were just some of the luxuries lost as businesses faced mandatory shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yet as states began to reopen last month, most areas saw the resurgence of these businesses as longtime customers clamored to receive their self-care services. Take Mitch Brewer, who owns Bad Habits Barbershop in Norwalk, Ohio. Upon opening the doors to his business again, he said recently that the public’s response was something he categorized as “overwhelming.”

“Our first days back were a Friday and Saturday and it was absolute mayhem,” Brewer said. “Once we started back up, we’ve been getting an overwhelming number of people.”

Is Brewer’s experience similar to other likeminded businesses across America? Ogden Newspapers spoke with business owners in 14 states to gauge how the reopening process has been as they work around masks, sanitize massage tables and keep their shops as clean — and as socially distanced — as possible. The following is what we found.

OHIO

In Norwalk, Ohio, Bad Habits Barbershop was in full swing again once the state reopened. Norwalk is the seat for Huron County, one of the seven counties Gov. Mike DeWine announced Tuesday were hardest hit by COVID-19. Owner Mitch Brewer said the new order mandating masks to be worn in public has hurt his business, as no beards can be cut if masks can’t come off.

While Brewer himself won’t have to constantly wear a mask due to his asthma, masks are now to be worn inside public spaces until the county’s outbreaks lessen.

Brewer opened Bad Habits in September and because he’s self-employed, he was denied unemployment. “We can’t cut beards, (can’t do) the hot lather, we can’t do anything like that,” Brewer said. “I’ve already had multiple clients cancel with me because of that reason.”

He said his shop has received a lot of backlash from community members who disagree with the mandate.

“Different members of the community are acting like this is our rule, but in reality, it’s not — we are just being forced to abide by it,” he said. “My biggest worry is if I allow my barbers to be comfortable and cut how they want without a mask, I have to worry about the state board coming and shutting me down.”

Brewer went on to explain that his barber chairs are sanitized after every client. Also included in his shop’s precautions are barbers wearing gloves and the shop having a rotation to clean doorknobs and light switches. No one is allowed to wait inside the shop, and only one customer is allowed in at a time. “You have to wait in your vehicle or out on the porch and you have to wait for us to call or text you and say it’s your turn to come in,” he said. “We’re doing the best we can to keep our people safe.”

Brewer said he worries that the mask mandate will be problematic as the summer goes on.

“I don’t think it should be mandated for every soul to have to wear it, not by any means, especially in this heat,” he said. “There’s numerous things said by doctors recently that you should not wear a mask in the humidity. People are going to be getting heatstroke.”

In Salem, Beauty on Broadway being closed was “a very lonely time,” owner Shelby Shambabh said.

“To go away from our clients and our team, that was a rough deal for all of us,” she said.

One of the struggles she faced with reopening her salon was having to do so on such short notice.

“Our salon is designed a certain way and now we had to rearrange all that, things had to be reconstructed and there was no help for that,” she said. “They only gave us six days to get ready. As a team, we went out and shopped. It was tough. You hadn’t worked for two months and have to spend all this money on rearranging, cleaning supplies, rerouting electrical. It was not fun.”

While Shambabh owns Beauty on Broadway, the other cosmetologists rent their space in her shop. “As soon as we shut down, I stopped their rent,” she said. “I couldn’t sleep at night knowing they were struggling to pay me. Being the owner and having so many faces looking at me, asking what we were going to do, it was hard.”

She said the salon’s cleaning routine has always been very regimented before the COVID-19 outbreak, but wearing masks is new and hairdressers can only see one client at a time.

“Only seeing one customer at a time lessened our income, and we weren’t able to do our business the way we normally do,” Shambabh said. “We had to make people listen to us if they came in without a mask. Being an authority, that changed our environment a little bit. Normally, it’s very friendly and open.”

For now, the masks remain on staff and they see one client at a time. Shambabh said as the weeks have gone on being reopened, people are getting more comfortable with the regulations in place and they seem less anxious about coming in. She said when Beauty on Broadway reopened, she saw an increase of new clients and business was busier than ever.

“We work because we love what we do,” she said. “Work is fun and we enjoy our job. To be away from all that and to come back makes us love it more. I’m not saying I’m happy we closed, but it makes you love your job that much more. We’re back doing what we love, even if we just have to do it a little differently.”

PENNSYLVANIA

Salons in Pennsylvania have been open for a few weeks now. Jodi Hlastala, the owner of Studio 412 in Uniontown, said it’s been “a pretty easy transition.”

“The first four weeks, it was extremely busy to try to get our clients in,” she said. “We have had to turn a lot of new people away because we wanted to give priority to our clients.”

With three stylists and one nail technician, they had to move their stations apart a little bit further to ensure social distancing. Everyone has to wear masks and the nail technician keeps Plexiglas between her and her client.

“She cleans it between each client,” Hlastala said. “It hasn’t been bad having masks. Even without the virus, people are going to cough or sneeze, and it’s just nice to have the mask there.”

They can’t take walk-ins anymore, as everything must be by appointment. Also, they can only service one client at a time, but Hlastala said that gives them more time to disinfect everything and reconnect with their clients. “We’ve just been following all the guidelines,” she said. “We feel pretty safe. We’re pretty close to our clients, and I haven’t heard of any of ours having coronavirus.”

WEST VIRGINIA

Chad Stradwick would have preferred to wait to reopen Stradwick’s Fade Cave in Wheeling, but economic realities gave him little choice but to follow suit when barbershops, hair and nail salons and massage businesses got the go-ahead from the state to reopen in May.

“If I could still be closed to this day and not have any financial repercussions or worries, I would be closed right now,” he said.

Stradwick opened his business two years ago, providing appointment-only advanced barbering to customers in a 50-60-mile radius. When non-essential businesses were closed in late March, he’d been saving up money to take some time off for the birth of his fourth child.

“Had the stimulus not come or I didn’t have any savings, I would have had to go get an essential job or something,” he said.

Stradwick made it through eight weeks of his business being closed. But with his mother, wife and one child at higher risk for contracting COVID-19 because of underlying health issues, going back to work still had him concerned. He turned to eBay and paid a premium to purchase a half-face respirator mask and cartridges manufactured by 3M, which he said are usually reserved for medical personnel. Stradwick said he wanted to make sure he had a “full seal” to keep the virus out, given there is still a lot of uncertainty about how exactly it is spread.

“I kind of look like I’m a mad scientist when I’m cutting hair,” he said.

That also required shaving his 8-inch beard, of which he was particularly fond.

“It’s like, ‘OK, protect your family or lose your beard?’ So that was an easy decision for me,” Stradwick said.

Stradwick said he received offers from customers willing to pay hefty amounts to get their hair cut while he was closed, but he turned them down. Now that he’s reopened, he stays busy.

In the past, friends might come to shoot the breeze or a customer’s family might sit with them. Now, Stradwick only allows one customer each for him and the cosmetologist who rents a booth there. Customers are required to wear a mask, but can remove it when they get a shave.

“When I’m performing the service on their face, I request that they don’t speak,” he said.

MICHIGAN

Hair salons, barber shops and other personal service centers, including massage centers and spas, were able to reopen statewide on June 15 in Michigan. In parts of Northern Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer allowed those businesses to reopen on June 10.

On that day and for weeks after, barbers and salons were inundated with clients seeking haircuts and services. Because businesses want to stay open, they are taking COVID-19 precautions seriously by cleaning vigorously, wearing masks and more.

At Better Living Massage Center and Spa in Alpena, Michigan, owner Rose McWilliams-Nowak said she is elated to be open again and able to serve her clients. She explained that it was very hard during the shutdown to turn clients away, but that she and other therapists could lose their licenses if they performed massages when the executive order was in place. The same goes for hair stylists and barbers.

“Unfortunately, our profession was completely shut down in probably a time period in people’s lives where they are the most stressed,” McWilliams-Nowak said. “And we’re here to help relieve that stress, yet we couldn’t the whole time we were closed.”

She noted that business has not picked up to where it was prior to the shutdown.

“Business has been a little slower,” McWilliams-Nowak said. “I think people, rightfully so, are still very scared and concerned about what’s happening, especially as the numbers in our area continue to increase. And we do provide service for a lot of the elderly in our community, and oftentimes people who are getting a massage may have some form of autoimmune disorder, or might be immunocompromised.”

She said all those factors play into who is and isn’t coming out for a massage right now.

As a result, the massage center has put new precautions in place, and has amped up the disinfecting that was normally done to maintain a sterile atmosphere. In the waiting area, the checkout desk was moved into a new location to allow for a larger open area when people walk in. It also now has a new Plexiglas barrier.

On the front door, a sign tells you to call the desk when you arrive and they will tell you when to come in to avoid crowding in the entry/waiting area. Vinyl coverings have been added to the massage tables beneath the sheets, so they can be easily wiped down between clients. Every therapist scrubs up between clients, which they already did regularly, and all surfaces are thoroughly disinfected.

“We have UVC lights in each room that we run every night,” she added. “UVC lights are lights that kill 99.9 percent of viruses and bacterias. They use them a lot in hotels and hospitals to disinfect the room.”

Clients are required to wear masks to enter the building, and all staff members wear masks. Clients can remove their masks in the private massage rooms. COVID-19 intake screening is also done prior to all appointments.

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