By Luca Evans and Will Carruthers
Much like at one’s favorite bar or diner, patrons often have a long-standing relationship with their hair stylist or barber, making the recent health-order-mandated business closures difficult for patrons along with workers and business owners.
Unsurprisingly, hair salons and beauty parlors are just a few of the many businesses that have been impacted by Covid-19 health orders.
Indoor salons were allowed to operate during California’s short-lived reopening but, on Monday, July 13, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered salons in the 30 counties on the state’s watchlist—including Marin County and the rest of the Bay Area—to stop offering indoor and outdoor service.
After push-back from beauticians, politicians and the Professional Beauty Federation of California, an industry advocacy group, Newsom clarified at a Monday, July 20, press conference that salons, barbershops, massage parlors and a few other related business will be allowed to move their operations outdoors, provided they follow safety protocols.
The latest rule change likely won’t save every business but, for those who do have the ability to move outside, the new order might give them the ability to scrape by.
The Pacific Sun spoke to two North Bay business owners to gain an understanding of the struggles of the state’s hairstyling industry—and what they think of the state’s latest order.
San Rafael Salon
On Tuesday, July 14, San Rafael salon owner Ann Brewer, 61, walked into her building to grab some supplies for clients requesting at-home service.
Just days before, the well-maintained Brewer-Phillips Hair Design had been singing with the snip of scissors, the hum of blow-dryers and slightly muffled conversations behind face-covering masks.
After the initial California shutdowns of non-essential businesses in March, Brewer talked to her team and other Marin salon owners about how they could create safe plans to re-open their businesses.
When sanctions were lifted for two weeks in July, a horde of clients—all wearing mandatory face masks—flooded in to find temperature screenings, self-reporting waivers of symptoms and socially distanced stations. The salon received compliments on cleanliness and safety from doctors who came in for appointments, Brewer said.
Yet, by July 14, Brewer’s self-described “big, beautiful” salon in downtown San Rafael had once again fallen silent due to the new rules for counties on the state’s watchlist.
“It’s hard to just look at all that, and say, is it really unsafe to be here?” Brewer said in a phone interview.
“I’ve found that basically, everybody is self-policing, like if somebody sees somebody pull their mask below their nose, we go and tell them, ‘Put that back up,’” Brewer said. “There’s not one thing that people get away with, because everybody’s watching.”
Yet, despite the precautionary measures taken by Brewer-Phillips and other establishments, Newsom shutdown salons and other businesses in 30 counties on July 13. The order came during a statewide spike in Covid-19 reportings, with Marin in particular being a hotspot, as average daily cases in July have nearly doubled that of prior months.
After a process of staying afloat following the first wave of shutdowns due to funding from her husband and Small Business Administration loan programs, the future of the salon remains unclear.
“At a certain point, I might lose everything,” Brewer said.
On July 20, following Newsom’s latest announcement, the California Department of Consumer Affairs clarified that hair salons may offer outdoor haircuts but not other related procedures, including shampooing, electrolysis and coloring.
Brewer said roughly 80 percent of clients received coloring during their appointments, a procedure which is not allowed under the new state guidelines. However, while she’d have to check with staff and clear the service with both the state board and city planning, Brewer said jumping through hoops wasn’t a problem.
“I’ll do anything I can to keep things moving,” she said.
Up in Sonoma County, another county on the state watchlist, a Graton-based hairstylist may have unintentionally lucked out.
Months before Covid-19 struck, Ramona Camille, 39, began refurbishing a 1974 VW van with the dream of offering haircuts and other outdoor services at festivals, weddings and elsewhere through her company, Ramona Rainbow Hair Art.
While the North Bay’s wedding and party industries probably won’t recover for a long time and Camille still hasn’t completed the VW van, she started cutting friends’ and clients’ hair around the county before the pandemic, including at some on-site weddings.
Camille, a single mother, saw another benefit to at-home visits before the pandemic, describing the services she provides to some clients as childcare and haircare combined. Even before the pandemic, more than half of her clients, many of them single mothers, asked her to make at-home visits, she said.
As a result of her previous experience, Camille mastered the art of to-go appointments long before the July 20 reopening. She is able to gather all of her equipment—including a collapsible chair, an umbrella, outdoor lights, a trash can and disinfectant supplies—in her car.
“[Offering outdoor service] is really completely possible,” she said.
Camille was inspired by a trip to Hawaii where she saw residents offering a variety of services outside.
“People were outdoors and they seemed to be having so much fun,” she said.
Under the state’s new order, Camille plans to cut hair on her front porch in Graton and continue offering clients at-home visits.