After weeks of uncertainty as to when they would be able to cut hair again, stylists at barbershops and salons throughout Stanislaus County finally got their answer on Tuesday as Gov. Gavin Newsom announced they could once again welcome clients into their chairs.
California, which issues one of the earliest statewide stay-at-home orders in mid-March to curb the spread of coronavirus, has been opening its economy in stages. While the state is currently in phase two of its re-opening plan, Newsom has given some counties that meet certain health criteria permission to move further along than other parts of the state.
On Tuesday, Stanislaus County was included as 47 of the state’s 58 counties that have met that criteria. In addition to restaurants and retail which were allowed to open last week, barbershops and hair salons can now re-open with modifications, including strict cleaning requirements and face covering protocols.
For Turlock business owners like Esmeralda Esquivel of Love Salon and Francisco Vargas of Barber Club, the governor’s announcement couldn’t have come soon enough. Despite the new requirements, Vargas is eager to get back to work.
“It’s not a worry, we just need to shift the way we do things. A lot of the things we have to do now, we already did in the first place,” he said.
While keeping things sanitary is at the top of the list in a barber’s handbook, masks and gloves will be an adjustment for most stylists. Vargas’ downtown shop is typically bustling with people, too — either community members waiting for their haircut or passers-by and friends just hanging out. Now, the shop’s waiting area will be a thing of the past as no more than one client can be in the shop at a time for each barber.
“It’s going to feel a little bit lonelier in here, but we have to do what we can to keep people safe,” Vargas said.
For Esquivel, the re-opening of Love Salon will feel a lot like a reunion between relatives.
“I’m so excited,” she said. “Our clients become our friends…I know we can’t give them a hug or anything like that, but they’re family.”
Despite her excitement, Esquivel added there is also worry about what the future of her business in a COVID-19 world could look like. Will clients be willing to wear masks? Will she have to shut down again in the fall should a second wave of the virus hit?
“Everything has been so unknown,” Esquivel said. “I hope everybody understands that we can’t risk our licensing and we want everyone to feel comfortable no matter where they stand. We don’t make up the rules, we just have to follow them. We’re all in this together and I hope everyone gives us a break, not just for our salon but all of the businesses here in Turlock.”
Esquivel said her salon was lucky enough to receive funding from the Small Business Administration in order to get through the coronavirus crisis. She received her first unemployment check about a week ago. Success with the state’s Employment Development Department has varied for each of her stylists — some have received the help they needed, while others have received nothing.
According to Vargas, Barber Club didn’t receive any federal assistance, nor did he hear back from EDD. Luckily, the business made it out of the shelter-in-place still standing, as did all of his barbers.
“I’m glad to know all my guys are good. They’re healthy and pushing through and they didn’t have any major losses,” Vargas said. “I’m happy everyone around me is safe. Looking back and seeing the whole team pushing through, that’s a nice feeling.”
It was difficult for the salon and barbershop industry to bide their time as others were able to do curbside pickup for their meals and products during the shutdown and even harder as those same businesses got the go-ahead to open up as stylists awaited any news.
“For most of us it was frustrating because everyone else was getting answers and our answers were nowhere to be heard,” Vargas said. “There was no definite answer…it was more like, ‘We’ll tell you when we tell you.’”
Now that the good news has arrived, both Vargas and Esquivel said they’ll be taking the remainder of the week to properly train their employees and ensure all health guidelines are being followed before re-opening.
The experience has been a learning curve for Esquivel, she said, and has brought cosmetologists in town closer together than they already were. Texts of encouragement between salon owners were a mainstay during the shutdown, while clients were constantly checking in to remind Esquivel they couldn’t wait to come back.
“For the clients, I think they missed the way the salon made them feel,” she said. “We were trapped in our house for a while…nobody likes to see their sparkle go out.”
At Barber Club, the shutdown helped Vargas reaffirm his passion for helping the community look and feel their best.
“When you stop doing something for a while and you finally get to do it again, you either get that feeling that you didn’t like it much, or a ‘I did want it’ feeling,” he said. “On my side, I’m ready to go. It reminded me I really enjoy doing this.”
For more information on the state guidelines for salons and barbershops reopening during the pandemic, visit www.covid19.ca.gov/pdf/guidance-hair-salons.pdf.