Mandated closures and an extended “stay at home” order in Washington have devastated businesses across the state during the coronavirus pandemic.
But while restaurants have been able to offer takeout and delivery and retailers can sell products online to generate some revenue during this time, hair salon and barber shop workers have been particularly vulnerable without these options.
According to the Department of Licensing, there are 66,098 active cosmetology operators in Washington state, which includes shops that have barber and salon endorsements. All were deemed nonessential businesses under Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-home order, and have been shut since March 16. To minimize contact and interaction, the state has also prohibited individual barbers and stylists from taking clients or doing their hair at home.
“This is of course a difficult time for everyone,” said Stacie Bowie, owner of Bowie Salon in Capitol Hill, during a phone interview. “But where restaurants have lobbyists and a lot of visibility, hair salons seem to have been left in the dust. We’re hurting a lot right now.”
Bowie says that after weathering 2008 she was prepared for another recession, but never a closure this abrupt. Bowie had to furlough her 13-person staff, and is frustrated by the uncertainty of when she’ll be able to open again.
Inslee recently extended his stay-at-home order through at least May 4. As a result, what started as a few weeks off work has grown longer, and it’s still unclear when hair salons and barber shops will be able to reopen.
Bowie Salon is managing to stay afloat by selling hair products on its website and booking future reservations, but it’s not enough.
Hair salon and barber shop owners cite their mounting rent and utility bills on top of their daily cost of living as a threat that looms each day they’re unable to work. Many owners are faced with tough choices about what to do moving forward.
“Do I shut down now, take my savings and walk? Or do I keep pouring money into this and see where I take this?” said Thaddeus Valentine, owner of Valentine’s Men’s Hair Tailor in Greenwood.
And these mounting financial issues are not limited to just small businesses. Even bigger companies such as Rudy’s Barber Shop, which originated in Capitol Hill and now has more than 600 employees and locations in five states, have filed for bankruptcy. (Rudy’s did not return several requests for comment for this story.)
In the meantime, shop and salon owners and workers are looking to local and state governments for financial assistance.
“I appreciate what Gov. Inslee has done for the state, I think he has handled things well,” said Earl Lancaster, owner of Earl’s Cuts and Styles in the Central District. “I’m a small business, with less than 10 people. I’m hoping that they find a way to help microbusinesses like me.”
But even with financial assistance, many are still eager to get back to work. Beyond income, they miss their craft.
“I just miss cutting hair,” said Connor Akiyama, a barber at Gandy’s in Lynnwood. “Something as small as a haircut can turn people’s days around, and that was my favorite part of the job.”
Akiyama said that some clients have asked him to cut their hair at home, but he’s declined in fear of being fined and losing his license.
For now, Seattle’s hairstylists look to the future, finding ways to show solidarity and protect their communities, even in times of uncertainty. Some are spending time with family, working on other projects or making light of what everyone’s “coronavirus hair” will look like in the future when we emerge, untrimmed and undyed, from months of quarantine.
Bowie Salon is staying connected with clients via social media. The salon suggests that people not try to dye their own hair at home, especially since over-the-counter dyes can contain certain ingredients that are hard to reverse when touched up professionally. And in a move of solidarity, Bowie says she’s growing her roots out, too.
“All our stylists are going to have crazy hair for months,” she said. “Even after we reopen, we probably still will, because we’re going to spend all of our time making sure we can do our clients first.”
Bowie has also been keeping a keen eye on her television, wary of politicians and celebrities who seem like they may still be getting their hair done somewhere.
“I’ve heard Anderson Cooper gets his hair cut once a week, and it’s still looking too fresh to not be,” said Bowie of the CNN news anchor. “We’re looking to our leaders for guidance, and it would be helpful to see that they’re in the same boat as us.”
Earl’s Cuts and Styles, which has been heralded as an enduring establishment of the Central District, is considering offering discounted haircuts when they can reopen, to help “get the city back to normal.”
“As a community barber shop, we just want everyone to be safe, and we’ll get over this together,” Lancaster said.
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