Throughout the pandemic, California salon owners have struggled to navigate the coronavirus shutdowns that has wreaked havoc on the state’s salon industry. For many salon professionals, like Katie Alm of The Storm Salon, the ever-changing regulations have left them feeling not only frustrated but uncertain about the future of their businesses. Now, thanks to Governor Gavin Newsom’s new tiered reopening framework, hair pros can breathe a small sigh of relief as hair services begin to resume indoors, depending on county health orders. Though, despite all of the good news, some hair pros can’t help but be concerned for the months ahead.
We spoke to Alm about her thoughts on Gov. Newsom’s reopening system, the current status of her business, and the lessons learned from being a salon owner during the pandemic.
The Tease: When we last spoke a couple weeks ago, you had just closed your business for the second time. How have things been since then?
Katie Alm: Since I last talked to you, I did have two other girls working at my salon and they have now quit. So, I do work at my salon by myself, which is very different from what I am used to. It was very surprising because both of them were really good friends of mine for almost a decade now.
I was not a part of the group that opened up before we were allowed to and they were in the hopes that I would. They had to take their business elsewhere since I did not want to break the law. It’s a little shocking but, it’s kind of the way of the business and the longer that I am a salon owner, the more I understand that.
Under Governor Newsom’s new four-tier plan, hair salons and barber shops were finally allowed to reopen indoors, depending on their county’s health orders. When the plan was first released, what were your initial thoughts?
Alm: When they first announced it, that was actually a very crazy day for me because that was the same day that the two girls told me they were leaving. So, that was a whirlwind of a day. When they came out and said there was this four-tiered, color-coded, very confusing chart, I really couldn’t understand it. My good friend Tanya, who is a hairstylist here in California as well, has been wonderful online about posting all of the information. She actually explains it better than any of the government officials that I’ve come across. Anytime something like this happens, I always go to her Facebook page.
So, that morning around 11 o’clock, Newsom said here’s this new four-tier system and everyone can go online to figure if you’re able to open or not — that included all hair salons and barbershops, no matter what tier your county was in. About two hours later, the L.A. health department tweeted that no matter what Newsome had said, L.A. salons were not allowed to open yet. It was a little shocking. That following Monday, the L.A. health department said that L.A. county could open their salons at 25% capacity and then continue working outdoors if you were already doing so.
How have these new guidelines impacted your business and your current plans?
Alm: To be honest, it kind of didn’t matter anymore because it was more of a capacity thing. Since, I’m the only hairstylist that works in building, it doesn’t really matter. For the ones that it does matter, they still are doing haircuts outside but, now they could do color inside at 25% capacity. So, for me, it was almost like nothing really changed besides just being able to go back to work.
I just kept with the same cleanliness. I double-checked what the guidelines said and most of the stuff didn’t pertain to me anymore. They didn’t add too many new rules. It was pretty much the same thing as what we had to do when we closed down and reopened the last time. We already had all of the PPE and all of the items that we needed. It was just kind of sitting there waiting for us to go back.
Prior to the new reopening guidelines being released, were you providing hair services outside?
Alm: Luckily, I did not end up doing hair outside of the salon as a few days later we were told that we could go back to working indoors. So, it worked out. I really thought that maybe my clients would have moved but, so far, so good. I opened my books up and we’re now booked five weeks in advance. So, my clients weren’t mad. They were just waiting for us to get back. A lot of my hairstylist friends have complained about their clients going elsewhere or neighboring counties that are open. I’m lucky that my clients didn’t do that and if they did, they had already checked with me, saying, “Can’t wait to come back into your salon.”
When the news first came out about salons being able to reopen indoors, did you find that you had a lot of customers reaching out to you on whether your barbershop would be reopening?
Alm: Anytime the news goes off, my phone starts to blow up because there are always a handful of clients that are paying attention to the news. These articles will say that all salons can open again and then when you click on the article, it’s like all salons can open but these 25 counties. Nine times out of ten, L.A. county is included in that, being that it’s one of the biggest counties in California.
With your reopening, was it pretty much a seamless transition back indoors or were there any unexpected challenges that you had to deal with?
Alm: It has pretty much gone back seamlessly. I actually adopted a new online booking system. Last time, one of the biggest problems for me was getting all of the people who cancelled their appointments back into my books. I was able to re-book and not have to do much thanks to this online booking system. Even though there have been some crazy times, I feel way less stressed. Now, I just feel like I am responsible for myself and my clients. Plus, I get to legally work inside.
Are you concerned at all about preparing for the future, now that we’ve entered into fall?
Alm: What I’ve done to prepare is just honestly telling myself in my head that I will probably not try to find any new hairstylists to come work in my salon until the end of the year. We’re about to go through the holiday season and that is the busiest time of the year for hair salons. Typically, I book pretty far in advance for the holidays, so I don’t feel the need to worry about any new stylist coming in. But, that’s pretty much how I’ve been preparing.
Barbershop owners and salon owners have been on somewhat of a rollercoaster ride of reopenings and closing due to the pandemic. What have you taken away from this whole experience?
Alm: My mindset has 100% changed. I think that having a full salon and a very successful business at the beginning of 2020 and then now, coming into work alone without all of my friends has been a very humbling experience. I will never not be grateful for the things that I do truly have because I didn’t lose my salon at the end of the day. A lot of people did lose their salons. So, for anyone reading this, I say just keep going. About a month ago, I thought all was lost and now I feel like the weight of the world has been lifted off of my shoulders. The hope is definitely there. It’s just that little bit of a light at the end of the tunnel.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
To keep up with Katie Alm’s work, follow her here on Instagram.