One of the most talked about subjects during the altered life experience of the coronavirus pandemic — whether a self-cut or lack thereof — was all about hair.
For Kathy Bjork, owner of The Fine Line Salon and Spa in north Brainerd, that’s been one of the consolations with the subject of hair becoming a repeated one from newscasts to casual conversation. The realization people are having in how important that trip to the salon was and how much it meant to them made her smile, Bjork said. The Fine Line staff was working when they learned they had to shut down. They finished the haircuts in process.
“And then we hung the sign and then we were done,” Bjork said.
And now with customers able to return to hair salons beginning Monday, June 1, salon customers will be greeted by an altered landscape. The Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce and Crow Wing County worked with area salons and hosted a well-attended Zoom session during the shut down.
They heard a mix of opinions. There was frustration at not being able to open earlier. They pointed to their training as cosmetologists and licensing requirements that already spoke to ways to protect themselves and customers. Others pointed to looking forward and focusing on what they could do now to open within the guidelines and make customers feel safe in returning. With a date in front of them for reopening, salons had time to prepare, adding Plexiglas at checkout counters and reception areas, putting in dividers and distancing customers.
Gone are the magazines people flipped through while waiting for their appointment. In fact, the waiting rooms themselves have changed. If the chairs are still there, they may be used for display instead of sitting. The many merchandise displays people may have looked through and touched for a last minute purchase as they paid their bills or waited for appointments also have been rethought.
At The Fine Line Salon and Spa, Bjork has revamped the space, taking down multiple displays and decorative items around the rooms to make it easier to clean and reduce the cloth surfaces. There are new stations for stylists and changes in operations. All her staff members took a course on safety and sanitation.
“Everything we touch, we sanitize,” Bjork said Thursday, May 28, as staff members were busy cleaning to prepare for Monday’s reopening. She thinks the demand will be high once they open the doors again.
Each station has hand sanitizer, a checklist and a sign to let the staff know that station has already been sanitized or needs to be. Chairs, tools of the trade are all cleaned between patrons and new capes provided each time. At The Fine Line, just one receptionist will be in the smaller space behind the reception desk. A second receptionist will help with disinfecting efforts between clients. A touchless scanning system for payments was added and customers no longer have to share a pen for signing receipts. The chairs are 6 feet apart and floor decals will assist customers with social distancing. Outdoor seating with chairs 6 feet apart on the expansive porch or in the yard, will provide places for clients to wait for appointments. A spot on the second floor is set aside for a single client in case anyone has concerns of being in the more open area on the main floor where more than one client can be seen at a time.
Barbicide, an industry disinfectant, is being universally used and the company even offers a certificate for providing safe services in a salon, spa or barbershop.
Salons will be opening at 25% their capacity in this next phase of reopening services shuttered when the pandemic broke out.
Salon owners note there are positive outlooks along the way. Bjork said she’s often been so busy she barely notices the spring beauty in the front of her north Brainerd salon with tulip beds and flowering crab. This year, she noticed.
At Belle Cheveaux Salon and Spa in Nisswa, owner Missy Norring is also awaiting Monday’s opening with anticipation. She’s already booked out into August. Norring is also a national educator for Paul Mitchell and was early into conversations on what reopening would look like. She said Robert Cromeans, global artistic director for John Paul Mitchell Systems, said the salons getting the safety and sanitation done right will have a competitive advantage. Norring said it’s about the salon that cares the most about you as a human. Whether that is with COVID-19 or anything else. Half of her clients are scared about the coronavirus and half think it's not a big deal, Norring said, noting her work is making them all comfortable.
The chairs where people used to hang out and talk before their appointments are gone. Norring planted flowers and created an outdoor seating space for customers. She will have regular sanitization and temperature checks when people come in along with a survey. The complimentary beverages are on hold for now. Norring said she loves her work and was typically double booked with a cut and a color and worked 50 hours a week.
“You feel pressure not to say yes all the time and figure it out and squeeze it in,” she said of appointments. Having a slightly slower pace and no double bookings isn’t going to be the worst thing. But she’s looking forward to opening day.
“I think everyone is very excited to get back,” Norring said. “They want a little normalcy back to our life. …. We just want to do hair again.”
Norring pointed to the skills licensed cosmetologists have and the training in safety and sanitation. At Belle Cheveaux customers will also see the changes. She said customers and staff are required to wear face masks and for a few people that means they won’t come in. Others said they won’t return without a vaccine or will wait a little longer until things calm down. Out of 200 clients she called, she said about 1% said they wouldn’t wear a mask to come in, 5% weren’t comfortable coming in yet and the rest were, “woohoo, I’m getting my hair done.”
On the positive side, Norring said while they were closed, she helped organize a Facebook group with other salon owners and independent contractors. They have more than 50 members now. About eight salons got together to set up a $500 prize drawing for customers who waited it out for them to reopen. No self cuts. Customers sent in photos.
“It was amazing to see eight salons in the area all work together the way they did,” Norring said.
Norring said she understood why they were closed as long as they were and now she hopes everyone, including customers, will be considerate and stay home if they don’t feel well and work within the new system.
“I’m so excited,” said Ashley LeClerk, stylist at The Fine Line, of reopening. “I’m excited to see my clients. I miss them a lot.”
The last time LeClerk saw clients was in March before the salons were closed by executive order to help stop the community spread of the virus. It’s a relationship, between stylists and clients, that can develop and continue for years. LeClerk has been working in the field eight years and said she loves meeting new people, learning about their lives and helping them feel beautiful.
LeClerk said while this has been challenging, the more people get used to the changes, the more things will become to feel normal — or the oft-used phrase these days of the new normal.
“You just have to kind of adapt,” LeClerk said.
The salon is often more than simply a place for a wash and a cut. It’s an experience.
“We are taking extra precaution to make them feel like it’s still a treat even though the world is kind of scary right now,” LeClerk said of clients. “We’ll take care of them.”