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 in 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, governor 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. But the decision to allow beauty services to resume didn’t result in universal feelings of thanksgiving among Georgia-based businesses.
Salons Owners Were Surprised By the Announcement
Jenn Jones, owner of the hair salon Creature Studio in Atlanta, shut her business down on March 19, before the mandated closures issued by the state. While her doors were 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 want to do what I can.”
But Jones didn’t immediately open 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. A few of the requirements for reopening include taking the temperature of employees and clients before they enter, no longer having waiting areas, wearing masks, and providing hand sanitizer.
Jones wasn’t alone in delaying her reopening date. Vivian,* 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 services 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 and Mentally Difficult
The process of reopening hasn’t been as simple as just going back to business as usual. Vivian also explains that getting access to personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff has proved to be difficult and complicated due to increased demand. “Before the pandemic,” she says, “because nail technicians go through so many masks and gloves, we already had some. Now we’ve noticed that the prices for nail supplies have skyrocketed. A box of gloves that would have been $35 is now $50. 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 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 the Comfort Levels of Staff
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.”