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.
In Marshalltown, Iowa, salon owner Shawn Hovel said they’ve been “busier than ever” since reopening on May 14.
“Our first 2 weeks (back) were like record weeks for the salon and we’ve been open since 1970,” he said.
Hovel owns 19 Salon and Spa, which offers services in hair, nails, massage therapy, waxing, and more. When asked if any services have been less busy than others, Hovel said that all the services in the salon had seen a huge increase.
Hovel believes this increase was originally in part due to customers wanting to return to these services after the months without them. He also said that he’s been getting more customers, which he attributed to his salon’s good ratings as well as smaller salons in town going out of business because of COVID-19.
In Estherville, Iowa, salon co-owner Kara Hatland has also seen new clientele, and said they have been “swamped.”
Hatland, who owns Envy Salon, said that people from Minnesota came in to get haircuts in May. Envy Salon reopened on May 18, prior to when Minnesota salons were allowed to reopen, and the northern Iowa city is close to the border.
Trisha Griebel owns Penazz Hair and Day Spa in New Ulm, Minnesota, which has been in business for 19 years this October. The salon reopened on June 1 after being shut down since 8:45 p.m. on March 17, according to executive orders from Gov. Tim Walz. During that time, her 10 employees were furloughed for 11 weeks, she said, and she had to go through many loans to pay rent and utilities. She and her sister co-own the business
“I feel like if we can’t be open 100 percent, then we shouldn’t be open,” Griebel said. “Because it definitely has taken a toll on my staff.
She explained that the personal service options, such as hand massages between appointments, have become less frequent because some people are wary of touching. And wearing all the personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, becomes cumbersome and hot, especially in the summer. Not to mention that revenue is down because they are only allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity.
“They don’t love coming to work like they used to,” Griebel said of her staff. “Most of my clients don’t like wearing masks. They can’t breathe.”
She noted that the salon has doubled its disinfecting measures since reopening.
“We’ve always had to do sanitation,” Griebel explained. “We just do more now.”
Business is by appointment only, and no one is allowed in the waiting room. She was able to call back all of her staff.
“Am I glad we’re open? Of course, because I want my business to be saved,” Griebel said. “But it’s definitely different.”
In Minot, N.D. the Evolution Salon shut their doors a week before the governor shut down similar businesses. Manager Myndi Johnson said the shutdown was “incredibly stressful” and closing their doors “felt like the only decision we could make.”
Johnson said some clients and staff weren’t comfortable with coming into the salon.
“How can you run a business if you don’t have clients or staff? It was almost a bit of a relief when the governor did do the shutdown,” Johnson said. “I think the decision was the best thing at the time.”
Johnson said she follows online forums for cosmetology and found cleaning procedures that others in more affected areas were using to help combat the spread of the virus
“We did a rotation of about every 30 minutes and of course after clients, wiping down chairs and any hard surfaces,” she explained. “We were going way above and beyond our normal guidelines for sanitation.”
When they first returned to work, all employees and customers wore masks — even though that has since changed.
“We just recently stopped wearing the masks,” she said. “If we have clients that are more nervous, we definitely will still wear a mask. We kind of put that ball in their court. Some salons across the United States are choosing not to blow dry because they think maybe that could cause the spread of germs but there’s no actual statistics on that if that’s accurate.”
Johnson said it’s been difficult but they’re trying to make the best decisions for their clients and staff.
“I feel for any and all employers, all industries that have had to face this,” she said. “We’ve had a few phone calls and people trying to book appointments and become very angry when we told them they had to wear a mask during the time our governor said that you have to do that to stay open. Some of the stuff that we dealt with was horrible.”
She said it’s been difficult using only appointments, as her industry has walk-ins often, and rescheduling once reopening was a “nightmare.”
On the other hand, Johnson said, she is grateful for her business’s loyal clients and those who treated them well.
“Most of our clients were unbelievable,” she said. “They understood we can’t get every single one of us back in when your doors open. It wasn’t simple and it wasn’t easy. Decisions were hard and they still are.”
In Lawrence, Kansas, Lawrence Tattoo Company office manager Patricia Barnes said in mid-June that while walk-in clients are not allowed, the business has been getting a lot of calls and emails to schedule appointments.
“A lot of people are like, ‘I’ve been sitting here thinking about these ideas for months,'” she said of clients eager to return and get new tattoos. “It seems like people are open to being out in the public again and being around people.
At Salon Di Marco & Day Spa, which offers hair, nails, waxing and massage services, the hair and nails part of the business ramped back up to nearly pre-COVID-19 levels, co-owner Carlos Castillo said in mid-June, but the waxing and massage services had not been as busy.
For hair and nails, Castillo said that on any given day at the salon, they were 90 to 90 percent booked, whereas waxing and massage services were about 70 percent and 50 percent booked, respectively.
“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.”
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.
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.”