Unlike many other states, Georgia’s included salons in phase one of its reopening timeline during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the process hasn’t been as simple as just going back to business as usual.
COVID-19 made its first official mark in Georgia on March 2 when two members of the same household became the first known cases of the virus within the state. Exactly a month later on April 2, Governor Brian Kemp announced a shelter-in-place order shuttering all but essential businesses. However, less than four weeks later on April 24, restrictions were eased in a way that allowed salons, barbershops, nail studios, and spas to resume operations. For owners and beauty professionals who have faced unemployment and revenue loss, Gov. Kemp’s announcement presented difficult choices.
While other states have now begun to ease their own stay-at-home orders, Georgia’s early, phase one reopening notably included the high-touch professions of the beauty industry, a job sector other states aren’t including until later dates. But the decision to allow beauty services to resume didn’t result in universal feelings of thanksgiving among Georgia-based business.
Salons Owners Were Surprised By The Announcement
Jenn Jones, owner of hair salon Creature Studio in Atlanta, shut her business down on March 19, before the mandated closures issued by the state. While her doors had been closed to guests for over a month, the announcement still stirred mixed emotions.
“When we got the guidance that we could open back up, we talked about it as a team. We all thought it was a little premature,” Jones tells Allure, “But for me, for the safety and security of my business, I wanted to get it going again. I wanted to see the people who wanted to come in. I wanted to do what I can.”
But Jones didn’t open immediately on April 24. Creature Studios didn’t resume services until May 4 under strict sanitation and protective guidelines issued from the state, Georgia’s cosmetology board and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Taking the temperatures of employees and clients before they enter, no longer having waiting areas, wearing masks, and providing hand sanitizer were just a few of the requirements to reopening.
Jones wasn’t alone in delaying the start date. Vivian,* a manager of a nail studio in Atlanta, explains the decision to reopen came with stress and a sense of unease that resulted in the business not resuming until May 6. “When Kemp announced April 24 as the date nail salons were ready to be open again, it was so unexpected,” she says, “We were all very taken aback by the sudden choice. At that point in time, we weren’t quite ready to open, but that started our minds thinking [of how we could]. The days setting up, making sure that opening was even a reality, that we could have a process, and what that reality would look like has been surreal and a bit stressful.”
Preparing To Reopen Has Been Physically & Mentally Difficult
The process to reopen hasn’t been as simple as just going back to business as usual. Vivian also explained that getting access to personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff has proved to be both difficult and complicated due to increased demand. She explains, “Before the pandemic, because nail technicians go through so many masks and gloves, we already had some. Now, we’ve noticed that the prices for nail supply have skyrocketed. A box of gloves that would previously have been $35 is now $50. It has almost doubled. The demand has reached more than just specialized industries.”
For some salons, the scarcity of PPE became a roadblock and required them to get creative. Michael*, a hair salon and barbershop owner in Atlanta, turned to alternative means to wholesalers in order to get items to protect his staff and clients. “I found a company, CustomInk, who was [now] doing custom masks because PPE was so hard to come by. A lot of these companies began to shift their production to help support [other industries]. They made these masks that were essentially T-shirt material, and that gave us something. We got ourselves all done up, and we, in a clean environment, stuffed tiny bags with masks that I’d ordered. Just in case someone comes in without one, here’s something for you to wear.”
Reopening Decisions Were Mostly About Staff’s Comfort Levels
For Michael, the decision to reopen wasn’t just about being able to prepare, it was also about his staff and fellow artists. “I knew there was going to be an overwhelming sense of fear. We’re the first state [to open],” Michael says, “I called each of them one by one and had candid conversations with them…I reiterated to them that they didn’t have to come back when we did it, if we did it.”
He wasn’t alone in the way he approached the decision to reopen. Raquel Souza, owner of Sweet Peach Wax & Sugaring Studio which has five locations across the metro-Atlanta area, also based her decision to resume — which she did on May 1 — on the comfort level of her staff, not on any pressure from clients.
“I would fire clients before I fire someone on my staff,” she says, “Most of my staff has been with me for the past nine years. Now, 27 of my 29 team staff are back. Two have decided to come back in June, and they asked ‘Will my job be safe?’ and of course, it will be.”
A Sense Of Camaraderie Has Emerged Among Other Salons & Clients
While salon owners and their employees have been trusting one another, according to Rachel Bunn, president of B. Monroe Salon in Macon, Georgia, salons also have been leaning on one another for guidance during this time as well. She tells Allure that B. Monroe is part of a national salon consulting group called Summit Salon Business Center, and the salon has been speaking with their fellow businesses within the group, but it extends beyond them as well. “I’ve been amazed at the amount of transparency from other salons in the Southeast and across the country sharing what they’re doing, what their fears are, and what how they’re feeling…We don’t have to do it all by ourselves.”
But it’s not just other salons. Loyal customers are also continuing to support artists and salons through the difficult decisions they’re making. Bunn says clients have been kind through all of the changes. “Overall, the response has been wonderful, and that just fills our cup. When you care about people and you’re in the service industry, you want to serve them and make sure their needs are met. Sometimes you do that to an extent where you trample your own needs, and the fact that our community’s response has been ‘Do whatever you need to do, we understand’ has been wonderful.”
Feelings About Reopening Are Still Mixed
From the initial news that they could resume to actually opening, beauty professionals have ridden a wave of emotion, and nearly every person Allure spoke with shared that the decision to open doors again was difficult. Over the past few weeks since Georgia has eased restrictions, the number of new cases per day has fallen by 12 percent, according to a report posted by Axios on May 13. The publication used John Hopkins’ University data tracker to examine the state’s seven day average from May 4 to May 11.
Many salon workers we talked to feel ready. Even those who have decided to delay their reopening now feel more prepared.
“I think it’s going to feel like the first days we were in business which came with a lot of anxiety. While you’re excited to be opening a business, you’ve also got a lot of fear,” Amy Leavell Bransford, owner of Aviary Beauty & Wellness Collective in Atlanta, says. “Over 10 years, I built a very robust business. Going into this quarantine, I had six to eight months of record numbers every month and was really proud of that. Now, it’s sort of like starting over, but I’m ready. I’m ready to get back in there. I had a meeting with my employees yesterday, and it filled my heart to be with them again because they’re my family, too.”
Michael felt like the moment was necessary, and it made him determined. “I’m going to go to work. I’m going to go to work. I had one shot to do this business, and [in the past nine years] I’ve done it pretty well,” he tells Allure. “I’m not going to go down because of this. This is not going to be the thing that ruins my opportunities.”
There Are Ways To Show Support Even If You Aren’t Ready To Visit
One thing that nearly every beauty professional Allure spoke with shared was a desire for all clients to feel comfortable — no matter what that looks like. There are things clients can do for their beauty pros and businesses, even if they don’t feel ready to visit.
Michael says patience is key to showing support. “Someone has to go first,” he tells Allure. “We ask people to be patient. Every salon is doing a similar form of their own thing. But if you go to someone’s house, if they ask you to take your shoes off, you take your damn shoes off, or you don’t go in the house.”
Alongside the respect and patience Michael requests, Jones also says there are practical ways to show support both financially and without spending money. “Go on their Instagram. Post your old hair selfies. Let your stylist know you miss them and love them and can’t wait to be back with them whenever that’s going to be,” she tells Allure. “Gift cards and pre-booking are great, too, but for me, to know someone has committed an entire year to see you is amazing.”
Leavell Bransford may sum up the profession and how to support the industry — whether open or unopened — best, “At the end of the day, we build relationships. Just reaching out to your therapist or hairstylist and keeping that personal connection going.”