Owner Katie Steller has video-called clients of her Minneapolis salon, Steller Hair Co., to help with hair advice — such as walking them through the delicate task of cutting their own bangs.
To help Hennepin County paramedics and police officers, Prohibition Barbers owner Chris Pomeleo volunteers to provide haircuts to keep unwieldy hair out of N95 masks.
Moxie Hair Salon owner Stephen Adams is creating hair color touch-up kits for customers to pick up.
With hairstyling businesses across the state ordered shut to prevent the spread of COVID-19, salons are finding ways to serve customers amid their own uncertainty.
“We’ve been really trying to keep in touch with [clients] and make sure everything’s going well,” Adams said. While working with clients to reschedule appointments, Adams is also connecting by e-mail to provide the latest updates on the 20-year-old salon.
He’s also using his podcast — called “A Super Important Podcast About Hair?” — to talk about the impact of the virus on hair salons.
An executive order by Gov. Tim Walz to shut down places of public accommodation, including hair salons, is in place until May 4. Many owners said they worry about what the shutdown will do to their businesses.
Steller and Adams said their workers have filed for unemployment. Steller has coordinated online meetings to check in with her staff of 17 employees.
Salon owners have also had to push back appointments. For Steller, this meant rescheduling about 500 clients for after May 1, the original date for reopening, she said. But since Walz extended the order last week, she had to re-reschedule at least another 50 clients, tentatively — and has since decided not to rebook any clients before May 15.
In total, she estimates she has lost up to $70,000 in revenue.
“It’s been tough,” Steller said. “I’m used to figuring out tough problems, but there is a ... reality that the longer this goes, this could really be detrimental to the sustainability of my business.”
Many customers have requested at-home services despite the restrictions — often offering to pay more. A salon experience can help give people a sense of normalcy, which is why people may be desperate for services, Steller said.
To withstand some hardship, Pomeleo said he’s heard some hairstylists are continuing to operate away from public view, including meeting customers at their homes. But he emphasized it’s irresponsible to do so. “It’s not worth it,” he said. “It’s just endangering people.”
Under Walz’s current stay-at-home order, hairstylists and barbers shouldn’t be visiting clients at home as they are not considered critical-sector workers, according to a spokesman for Walz’s office.
But without being able to provide services, losing appointments and income in the short-term isn’t the only obstacle hairdressers are facing.
“I don’t want to be doom and gloom … but it’s greatly affecting the hair industry,” Pomeleo said.
Pomeleo said he pays more than $2,000 a month in rent. He has filled out at least three different applications for government aid, including one for veteran-owned businesses, and is now playing the waiting game, he said.
“A lot of small shops aren’t going to make it unfortunately,” he said.
Pomeleo said although he can’t sustain his business for months without income, he maintains a positive outlook.
“Even if my shop doesn’t make it … I can re-create it again,” he said. “I’ve accepted the fact that it’s OK. If I have to shut it down, I’ll rebuild again and do it over again because it’s about the community and the client base that you build.”
The virus could have a long-term effect on how hairstyling businesses operate, Adams said.
“[We have to] really think about how we’re going to create marketing ... to drive people back into the business and make customers and employees feel safe,” he said. Adams said he will likely need to make hairstyling stations farther apart and use new cleaning guidelines.
If her business can make it to the reopening date, Steller said she expects a major influx of people needing their hair done.
Until then, she’s trying to make sure her employees have a job to return to when restrictions end.
“Everybody’s having a really hard time,” she said. “And so there’s something uniting about that.”
Caitlin Anderson (email@example.com) is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.