Massage parlors, barbers, salons see surge in business
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.
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.
Adiel Cline owns Salon 253 in Wailuku, Maui, Hawaii. She is also the founder of Hawaii Salons Forum, the coalition of salons throughout the islands that wrote the guidelines to help open salons back up after the shutdown, which was mandated on March 24.
“We did close down early because we felt we needed to do our part to keep our community safe,” Cline said. “There were no talks of opening any industries, so I called and talked to the (Maui County) mayor, Mayor Mike Victorino, and said, ‘Look, we want to open our industry.’ And they put us at high-risk, because our board of cosmetology hadn’t met before COVID had happened, so we didn’t have any proper representation. So … I organized Maui and then I organized all the islands … We all came together and proposed a plan that was supported by Josh Green, our lieutenant governor.”
Salons were able to reopen in Maui County on May 25, she said. Right now, Salon 253 is open by appointment only to limit the number of occupants. Stylists are one-to-one with clients, so some of the staff’s job duties have changed, but Cline was able to call all of her employees back after the shutdown.
The staff that would normally wash the clients’ hair are now tasked with constantly cleaning the salon at all touch points in between clients and throughout the workday. They are at 50 percent occupancy right now, Cline said.
To compensate for the loss of occupancy and revenue, Cline has extended her salon hours so staff can provide services to more clients, and in turn, the salon can be more lucrative to make up for the profit loss during the two-month shutdown. Masks are mandatory for everyone ages 6 and up, and social distancing is in play for anyone not working on a client. Plexiglas has been installed around the reception area and hand washing or sanitizing is required for all staff upon entering the building. COVID-19 intake screening is also done upon entry.
“Even if we had to go further than what the state required, I want to make sure that I’m listening to the comfort level of my clients,” Cline said. “We have to put guidelines in place, but I can do more. I can’t do less but I can do more if it’s what my customers want.”
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 New Hampshire, services for cosmetology businesses were originally limited to haircuts and root touch-up services. Using blow-dryers was also not allowed.
Now, cosmetologists and barbers are permitted to provide all services they can as long as the client is capable of wearing a face covering at all times. Blow-dryers and heat rings are also allowed to be used again.
Manicurists and pedicurists staff have to wear disposable gloves when servicing clients and change them between clients. All staff have to wear a face covering, even if they are in a space alone.
There are no walk-in appointments, and if staff or a client have symptoms, they should not be allowed to work.
There are to be no more than seven operating stations per 1,000 square feet in a facility at a time and the number of clients should not exceed the number of staff.
Clients should wait in their car until being alerted to enter. Waiting areas should be closed to avoid congregating and appointments should be staggered.
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 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.”
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.
Closing down the Rustic Roots Salon in Lake Placid didn’t mean no work for owner Amber Herzog over two-and-a-half months. With no way of knowing when her business would be allowed to reopen, she got a job at a Hannaford supermarket.
“Thankfully, my overhead is not super crazy,” she said of being able to keep her business location on Saranac Avenue.
Rustic Roots reopened June 3 as part of Phase 2 of New York’s reopening plan. Herzog was able to go back to the salon full-time, though she and the three part-time stylists with whom she works have to align their schedules to meet reduced occupancy requirements.
“We basically can only have one stylist and one client in at a time,” she said.
Stylists must wear masks and a face shield or goggles, while clients are required to wear masks as well, Herzog said. Their region of New York is now in Phase 4 of reopening, but during Phases 2 and 3, stylists had to be tested for the coronavirus every 14 days.
“We’re still booked out until the end of this month, just to play catch-up,” Herzog said. “I definitely have heard that … we should be essential more than once.”
In Gloversville, Erin Hollenbeck had to stop offering massage therapy through the business she co-owns, Serenity Now, until mid-June, but she kept her full-time job at a nursing home. Massage therapists are also required to be tested for the virus every two weeks, but Hollenbeck is tested weekly because of her other occupation.
Massage therapy was not initially included in the state reopening schedule, but thanks to the lobbying efforts of the New York chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association, the industry was placed in Phase 3, Hollenbeck said.
“I was able to get all my clients back in my first week,” she said. “I probably did 15 massages in three days.”
Most of her clients come to her for medical reasons, Hollenbeck said. None have had an issue with the requirement that they wear masks while being treated.
“Because they knew that to get the massage, they had to do it,” she said.
Massage therapists must wear masks and goggles. They are not allowed to give facial massages, sometimes used to address sinus issues, and they must change the sheet on the table after a client uses it. Hollenbeck said she also disinfects the table underneath the sheet.
Some clients of Six East Salon and Spa in Frederick are still concerned about venturing out to have their hair cut, colored and styled. Owner Judy Cicala said she and her staff, some of whom have family members whose health conditions put them at greater risk from the disease, understand and are doing everything they can to protect themselves and their customers.
“It’s a matter of just caring about the people around you,” she said. “The reason a lot of our clients are coming back is because they know we’re taking, I feel, the right precautions.”
Customers are emailed a reminder of the salon’s protocols before their appointments. Clients must wear a mask, enter through the back and exit through the front, helping the staff manage the number of people in the building.
“If someone is not willing to wear a mask, then we nicely tell them we cannot do their hair,” Cicala said.
But that hasn’t happened yet. Only one client didn’t bring their own mask, and the salon provided one.
People are asked not to bring many personal items, including the large purses many favor, Cicala said.
If people do bring personal items, they are placed in a container that is sanitized after they’re removed.
Employees get their temperatures taken, wear masks and face shields and clean their stations between clients.
Some rooms not being used in the spa area have been set up as private stations for customers that might be immunocompromised or more concerned about a possible infection, Cicala said.
Six East opened on May 30 after being closed since mid-March.
“We opened with allowing our health care workers who are existing clients to make appointments first,” Cicala said. “We were super, super busy for the first six weeks. It has slowed down.”
For questions that the state government couldn’t immediately answer, they turned to fellow stylists in other states that had reopened earlier, such as Georgia, Cicala said. Some of the information-sharing was facilitated by vendors like Bumble and bumble and Oribe.
“We did video chats around the country,” she said.
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.
In Ogden, Utah, Structura Body Therapies has seen a steadily increasing return of its client base since reopening in early May. The organization offers rehabilitative restorative therapy and massage therapy.
“It’s been gradual,” co-owner Nancy Prince said of the return of the clientele. “It’s just now finally starting to feel full.”
Prince said that all practitioners and clients are required to wear masks during therapy, and that clients’ temperatures are taken before they come in. She said clients have been proactive in cancelling appointments if they find out they had been exposed to COVID-19.
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.
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.”
Elizabeth Storms has been doing hair for 40 years. She’s one of five stylists at Hair Sculptors Salon in Leesburg, Virginia, which opened up for clients June 6.
“It was pretty chaotic because everybody wanted to come in at the same time,” she said. “Many of us had to work late into the evening, 11 at night.”
At first, Storms said, it was difficult to convince clients they had to wear masks during their appointments.
“We just had to continue to encourage them,” she said.
Sometimes the masks accidentally get cut with the hair, she said, and sometimes they get hair coloring on them.
“I stocked up on disposable masks, just in case,” Storms said.
Storms said she’s getting many new clients, people who couldn’t get an appointment with their typical hairdresser or people who are looking for a stylist near their home as opposed to their office or workplace.
News Lifestyles Editor Darby Hinkley contributed to this report.