Update: On May 7, Governor Mike DeWine announced that hair salons, barbershops, day spas, tanning facilities and nail salons can re-open on May 15.
MANSFIELD -- It’s been six weeks since a statewide order forced Melissa Cary to close her salon in downtown Mansfield.
Like many salon owners, Cary’s small business isn’t just her livelihood. It’s her passion. Her clients and stylists might not be there, but when she’s feeling restless, Cary finds an excuse to visit the storefront.
“I’ve gone into the salon a couple of times, just to kind of clean things up and organize it a little bit, just to kind of keep my mind right,” said Cary, who purchased Studio 19 Salon Spa two years ago. “I think it makes me feel better going in, even if it's just for fifteen minutes and I’m just kind of sitting and processing it all.
"I’ve worked really hard. Everyone has.”
Salons and barbershops were among the many industries deemed “non-essential” and ordered to close on March 19 by the Ohio Department of Health.
For Peggy Lewis, owner of Allure Studio, it was the first closure she’s experienced during her 20 years in the business.
“We’ve never had to be closed for any reason,” she said.
While Lewis said she approved of the initial stay-at-home order, she was slightly disappointed when salons were not included in the list of businesses that could reopen in May under Governor Mike DeWine’s “Responsible RestartOhio” plan.
DeWine has put together a task force to address the industry's reopening, but has not announced a date.
“Obviously, our biggest concern right now is finances,” she said. “I’ve still got to pay everything. You still gotta pay your insurance, your taxes, your mortgage payments, your utilities. The financials are pretty scary.”
As self-employed workers or independent contractors, shop owners and their employees don’t pay into, or qualify for, regular unemployment benefits. Many states, including Ohio, are extending eligibility for these benefits through the CARES Act, but many applicants are still waiting for aid.
Lewis estimated that two of the fifteen people who work in her salon have gotten unemployment benefits.
Sarah Leonhardt said she and her boyfriend, who are both barbers, are still waiting on federal stimulus checks.
“We haven’t received any financial help since the shutdown,” she said. “I feel like we’ve kind of been the forgotten industry.”
Leonhardt spent weeks trying every avenue possible to get a response to her unemployment claim -- sending emails, making phone calls and utilizing instant messaging features on government websites. Nothing has worked.
“It’s been a very exhausting, draining, very emotional process,” she said. “Since March, basically the week after we got laid off, they were saying, ‘Yes, you guys will be approved, file your claims.’ And so I was going in and filing my claim every week and every week it just said, ‘Denied, denied, denied.’”
Cary was fortunate enough to receive a PPP loan from the federal government that can be used for payroll and other business expenses, but she’s not allowed to use it until her salon reopens.
When that will be is anyone’s best guess.
“I’m hearing maybe the end of May, I’ve also heard June. I’ve also heard July. I’m really praying that’s not the case,” Cary said.
Damien Beauford, owner of 419 Barbershop, said he wasn’t expecting to be allowed to re-open soon. He does, however, think there should be more consistency.
“I don’t think a haircut is essential, but you can’t tell me some of these other things are essential,” he said. “I hate that it seems like they are picking and choosing who’s important, what’s important?”
Beauford and other industry professionals noted that even before COVID-19, barbers and hairstylists were required to follow stringent sanitation guidelines. Tools and workspaces are sanitized in between clients, and employees spend hundreds of hours studying sanitizing, disinfecting and communicable diseases in order to get a license.
“We’re trained in sanitation and communicable diseases. We take our job serious,” he said. “On one hand you understand safety and security, but on the other hand, it's like I’ve been trained on how to handle these types of situations. I have a lot more training than someone serving coffee and donuts.”
Beauford was told he wasn’t eligible for an emergency disaster loan, so he’s working on a PPP application. Beauford says he worries about how his barbers are doing financially. While his shop has closed, he’s working as a DoorDash driver.
When barbershops and salons finally reopen, workers are expecting they’ll have to comply with extra regulations, such as not allowing people to congregate in a waiting area and a mask requirement for employees.
“I’m not worried about getting the virus when we open back up. I think we could put enough measures in place,” Lewis said. “I think one of our biggest concerns is ‘Are we going to be able to get enough masks?’”
In the meantime, stylists and barbers are doing their best to stay in touch with clients.
Leonhardt worries about her customers who live alone or have mental-health issues, who find comfort and community in the barbershop.
“I make phone calls on a daily basis to a lot of customers I have that are elderly," she said. "I have one lady who I do her hair every Saturday morning and I call her at least every other day to check on her because she’s widowed.
"She lives by herself and the only places she goes all week are here and Mansfield Family Restaurant.”