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California Salon Owners Struggle to Navigate Coronavirus Shutdowns

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To say it’s been a rollercoaster ride for California salon owners recently would be a serious  understatement. Between the constant closures, re-openings, and new regulations, these days salon professionals are merely just trying to survive amidst all of the uncertainty.

San Dimas-based hairstylist, Katie Alm, who owns The Storm Salon, was open for just five weeks before an alarming rise in coronavirus cases forced her to close for the second time.

Michael Mejia, a San Francisco-area barbershop owner and Andis Company educator, also suffered a similar fate. After a two-month lockdown, he had just started seeing clients again starting June 15th before he was forced to shut down almost a month later. For now, his shop still remains closed but reopening plans are in the works.

“It’s frustrating because there hasn’t been any real leadership as far as organization,” said Mejia, owner of Frank E’s Barbershop and Grooming Lounge. “We didn’t even get a heads-up that we may be re-closing again. Gov. Newsom made the announcement on Monday and then we were immediately supposed to close shop.”

The New Normal

For months, California salon owners, such as Alm and Mejia, have suffered major blows, both financially and emotionally, amid all of the coronavirus chaos happening in their state. On top of just trying to make it through the pandemic, small business owners also have to worry about keeping their respective businesses afloat.

As of late the Golden State has become a major hot spot as cases continue to surge, even surpassing New York as the state with the most recorded cases, per CNN’s report. In the last two weeks alone, the state has seen almost 130,000 new cases and the number has continued to rise at a highly alarming rate. On July 13th, Gov. Newsom rolled back California reopening plans in an attempt to slow the spread of Covid-19. The new mandate forced small businesses, including hair salons and barbershops, across 30 counties on the governor’s “coronavirus watch list” to shut down altogether.

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HAPPY TWO YEAR ANNIVERSARY TO MY DREAM COME TRUE- @thestormsalon !!!!! ⁣ ⁣ I can’t believe how time really flies when you’re having fun!! ?⁣ Thank you to EVERY SINGLE PERSON who has loved and supported my business since the first day! You’re the real mvp! ?⁣ ⁣ I wouldn’t be where I am today with out @lebrookeautumn & @hairby_tiffneyirish ⁣ These two girls and I have been traveling through this career together over the last 7-8 years! 3 salons later and we are going just as strong⚡️ ⁣ We have been through some SHIT together (good+bad) and I’m so proud to say these bad bitches are my best friends! I love you girls so much and I’m lucky to have you! ❤️❤️ ⁣ ⁣ Thank you to my supportive husband @jchapwastaken for being there since the absolute beginning of this dream! We met when I was only an assistant and now I’m a SALON OWNERRRR!!! Whaaaaaaa ??⁣ ⁣ Thank you to my family, your love and support I’ve received over these years helps guide me through this crazy beauty world! I used to call my mom and cry saying “I’m so slow, I have no clients” now I call and say “I have so many clients!” ⁣ ⁣ LUCKY ISNT EVEN THE CORRECT WORD TO DESCRIBE MY FEELINGS TODAY! ❤️⁣ ⁣ I can’t wait to see what the rest of 2020 has in store for us! If we can get through a world wide pandemic and a mandatory salon closure… WE CAN CONQUER THE WORLD! ✨⁣ ⁣ #thestormsalon #thestormsalongirls #salonowner #dreamsdocometrue #pinchmeimdreaming

A post shared by San Dimas Stylist: Katie Alm (@katieealm) on

“Being a new business owner, on top of a pandemic well, that’s difficult,” said Alm, who just celebrated her salon’s two-year anniversary on July 1st. “Most of us, including myself, spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars to prep our salon spaces during a time where we did not have any income, in order to follow the first round of new regulations.”

To get her salon up to Covid-19 protocol to re-open the first time around, Alm said she spent about $600-$700 in order to buy cleaning supplies, back stock of hair products, as well as custom masks for her stylist and customers. Not to mention, at the time she was only seeing clients with just a fraction of her stylists, after two of her five stylists made the decision to leave during the beginning of the pandemic.

While Mejia has dealt with his fair share of difficulties, he said his experience hasn’t been quite as rough or traumatic as other salon- and barbershop owners. He runs a small shop with only three chairs and himself as the sole employee.

As much as he’s concerned with how the closures are affecting his bottom line, he’s also worried about his customers. Though his clients have been understanding given the current situation, Mejia can’t help but think about how the openings and closings must be impacting them as well.

“It’s very frustrating on a client’s level because I know as much as they do,” he said. “So, to give a client an answer as to say, ‘I don’t know’ has got to be extremely frustrating on their end because now they can’t go to me so they are trying to look for other places – just to get a haircut.”

Mejia went as far as to liken the difficulties of getting a haircut nowadays to getting a drink during the 1920s.

“It’s kind of like back in the days of a speakeasy prohibition,” he said. “You know there’s some doing it after hours or blocking out all of their windows. You need a secret path to get a haircut nowadays.”

But the coronavirus hasn’t just made it more difficult to get a haircut, it’s also made it more expensive too. 

“I know a guy that was charging almost $100 for a haircut and he normally only charges $25,” said Mejia. “Since there is such a huge demand right now, he’s able to take advantage of the situation in that respect.”

Second Time’s A Charm?

For now, California salon professionals are gearing  up for their second go-around of re-openings, thanks to the newest mandate from Gov. Newsom. On July 13th, it was announced that California hair salons and barber shops can remain open as long as they move their services outside.

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Today’s #covid19 update.

A post shared by Gavin Newsom (@gavinnewsom) on

 While this new ruling will provide relief for many salon owners trying to make a living during these trying times, not all welcome the new challenges it will pose. Some, like Alm, worry about the safety of their clients and the potential risk factors that come working outdoors in the summertime.

“Personally, I think that it is actually more dangerous than to be inside,” she said. “It is relatively 87 to 93 degrees on average during a normal day.”

For this reason, instead of bringing her services outside, Alm will be working in a little breezeway near her salon. Following the new rules, she will only be offering haircuts, despite making the majority of her revenue from coloring.

Mejia plans on opening a little outdoor pop-up shop and is still trying to figure out the logistics on bringing his business outside.

“How am I going to get my tools outside? Do I have wiring? Do I have a long extension cord? How is that going to work?” he said. “And then, some barbers don’t have the means to have a whole new tool set of cordless clippers, so they have to worry about having those plugged in.”

Right now, Mejia’s biggest concern is just trying to get a permit so he can finally start seeing clients again. His city wasn’t aware there was going to be a new mandate and as a result, they did not have a permit in place. He’s now waiting for San Francisco to develop new regulations and the proper permits so he can resume working.

“It is extremely frustrating because as of right now, I could have been open for the past two weeks but because my city and county doesn’t have their stuff in order, they don’t want me opening up,” he said.

For salon professionals, like Mejia,who find their business open one day and closed the next, the frustration is easily understood. Just keeping up with the constantly changing regulations is enough to give anyone whiplash.

But, Mejia has found comfort in knowing that he has the entire hair community riding this crazy pandemic rollercoaster along with him.

“Mentally, it’s definitely difficult but it’s one of those things where at least you take solace in knowing that it’s not just you,” he said. “It would be really frustrating if I had to go through this by myself.”

For Alm, however,  it’s hope that’s keeping her moving forward.

“It’s been very difficult unfortunately, but I think that what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, right?” she said. “We came back already one time and I’ll think we’ll come back again.”

Camille Nzengung
Camille Nzengung
Camille Nzengung is a Features Editor, based in Georgia, covering all things hair at The Tease. You can find her writing about the best hair products, the coolest hair trends, and all the exciting new hair launches.