They’re baaaack. And they’re different. It’s been nearly three months since hair salons and barbershops closed due to the pandemic. Now, with many openings tentatively slated for mid-June, beauty establishments are taking unprecedented steps to adhere to a brand-new safety protocol.
On the flip side, plenty of clients, though desperate for grooming fixes, are looking at their favorite go-to’s through new eyes. Many say salons must be visually immaculate and uncrowded before they’ll be willing to sit in a swivel chair again. Gail Gonzalez, 46, a fashion influencer (@simplygailg) from Valley Stream, says looking groomed is “essential,” but she’s not willing to take risks. “If a place looks like it hasn’t been disinfected … or if it’s overcrowded, I’ll turn around and leave.”
The bottom line: There’s a new salon normal and it’s all going to be very, very different. Hair salons are open by appointment now that Long Island has entered Phase 2, but nail salons, tattoo parlors, threading, waxing and manicure and pedicure shops remain closed. Here are the changes to expect:
1. The number of salon chairs will be significantly slashed.
At nuBest Salon and Spa, the vast 47-year-old beauty hub in Manhasset, the pandemic has led to some serious construction. More than half of the salon’s 32 stylist’s chairs (these bolted to the floor) have been removed, whittling the number down to 13 in order to ensure a safe distance between clients and haircutters. The color department has been reduced to a mere 10 chairs from 24. “The salon will look totally different,” says Gloria Sombrotto, the general manager, who adds that the waitlist for appointments is approaching 1,000. “Rather than skip over a chair and just leave it empty, we’ve taken them out to help limit contact.”
2. You may see seat covers, glass dividers, masks and more.
“We’ve invested in disposable capes, seat covers, glass dividers and sanitizer stations,” Sombrotto says of nuBest. At LuMara Salon in Massapequa, owner Maria Lutz’s team of 12 stylists will be required to wear masks, and clients won’t be allowed into the salon without a face covering.
While your stylist will be shuttered behind protective gear, they’ll still be able to hear how much you missed them. “I have a newfound appreciation for stylists,” says Jackie Sullivan, 70, a realtor from East Norwich. “They play a psychological role in our existence in making us feel better about ourselves.”
3. They may ask to take your temperature.
“We’ll be taking the temperature of clients and staff who will work in shifts,” adds Sombrotto.
4. Waiting areas will be a thing of the past (for now).
Gone too, at some businesses, are those convivial waiting areas where clients could relax before their appointments, read magazines and chit chat. “People will have to call when they arrive. If we’re ready for them, they can come up. If not, they’ll have to wait in their cars until we call them,” Sombrotto says.
5. Some services will be missing.
Also, MIA at nuBest, for the time being, are spa services including threading, waxing, facials, manicures and pedicures. “We’re just doing hair services to start,” says Sombrotto. Oh yes — and then, there’s the beloved cup of coffee offered by many an establishment. It’s off the menu for now. At LuMara, missing from the offerings will be blowout specials, Brazilian keratin treatments, self-blow-out stations and kids’ haircuts. “The first couple of weeks are going to be very weird,” says Lutz.
6. Your stylists may have alternating shifts.
Lutz’s appointments are already piling up. “I have a mile-long waitlist and I’m feeling confident,” she says. “We’re very eager to get back to work.” Her team of stylists are slated to work in shifts. “We basically have an ‘A’ team and a ‘B’ team that will alternate schedules every other day,” she says, in an effort to help keep her staff safe by limiting exposure. “We’re asking people to come by themselves; the less people we have the better and to not bring any extra bags.” The staff at nuBest will also rotate rather than be in the salon all at once. “We’re extending our hours and will be working until 8 p.m. every night but Saturday.”
7. Sterilization (fog, wipes and heat treatments) will be a must.
Ashlee White, 37, a content creator, who lives in Roslyn and is a former star of Bravo’s “Princesses: Long Island,” says she “misses the pampering so much,” but remains concerned about the return. “I don’t know if I’m ready. My first reaction is to call the place to ask what their protocol is to keep everybody safe, to keep it sanitized and clean.” Chanel Omari, 35, of Great Neck (her “Princesses” co-star, a comedian and host of the “Chanel in the City” podcast) calls herself a “walking beauty offender” with “skunk” silver hair, but the desire to spruce doesn’t overshadow safety protocol.
That protocol: For Lutz, this means adding significant disinfecting services on a daily basis between clients as required along with a complete disinfecting fog once a week.
And at the Spa at Red Hots in Roslyn, which is included in Phase 3 reopening plans, is to act as if, “every time a room is used, it’s been infected,” says Elaine Bezold, a co-owner who has invested in more heat sterilizers pre-opening. Here, use of a locker room will be relegated to storing items like handbags rather than changing into cushy robes, and aestheticians and therapists wearing shields, masks and gloves, will meet clients (who also must be masked) at the door escorting them into treatment rooms. They’ll be no use of cellphones inside the treatment rooms and temperatures will be monitored. The spa has also taken immunocompromised clients into consideration and has set up an outdoor gazebo for them along with special hours.
8. Some prices may increase.
Some salons are reportedly planning on raising their prices based on added PPE and the fact that they will have fewer slots for appointments. At least one salon goer is less than thrilled with that. “COVID-19 has had an impact on people’s finances, and I personally feel people will not be happy to pay or able to pay an increase on salon services as many people are struggling to pay their mortgages, rent and trying to put food on their table to feed their families,” says Tina Gullo, 49, of Old Brookville.
9. Not every salon will reopen just yet.
Not everybody is prepared to move forward. Sonia Soni, who owns Become Med Spa, in Dix Hills says, “I’m focusing on what’s going on and I really believe there’s going to be a second wave [of the virus], and to me it feels not safe so we’re not opening until July and that will be with extra masks, gloves, disinfectant and probably forehead thermometers.”
10. Barbers can’t yet offer beard trimming and shaves.
It’s not a ladies’ only situation either, says Daniel DeMatteo, 40, a designer and menswear manufacturer from East Rockaway, who’s eager to return to MadMen Barber Shop. “It’s definitely not the same when you can’t have a proper haircut,” he says, adding that he allowed his wife and daughter to trim his hair. “They can’t do a fade and they don’t do beards. It’s a disaster if you want to know the truth.” Besides the sharp haircut, he’s missed the camaraderie in the barbershop community — “the banter” — and “can’t wait for a little taste of normalcy.”
But for barbers, regulations are particularly tough.
“We’re not sure what we’re going to do. We are considering a delay because of the onerous guidelines which preclude beard trimming and shaves,” says Jessica Dennehy, co-owner of MadMen in Wantagh and Williston Park. Those trims and shaves, according to her business partner Ed Dennehy, represent 31% of their business. That combined with a mandatory 15-minute station sanitization in between clients which cuts the time for appointments for the day in half is a megahit financially.
“What does that really leave us? If our haircuts were hundreds of dollars that’s one thing, but they’re $20-$25.” Having dipped deeply into their personal funds to pay rent during this time, Ed says, “It’s really, really rough to float yourself for 73 days. And now we must invest further with no light at the end of the tunnel.” With no shaves or beard trims, the duo was hoping to offer clients some perks, like free espresso with their cuts … but, sigh, for now, that’s out too.