While they may be in very different businesses, Hope’s hairstylists, dentists, tattoo artists and body work professionals are all grappling with how to provide services during a pandemic.
Unable to stay two metres from their clients, the professionals designated by public health officials as ‘personal service’ businesses are proceeding with caution as they navigate the new rules for cleanliness and interactions. This means these locals are doing much less business and more cautiously since they have re-opened, after being forced to close March 21 by an order from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
The reason they were closed – their business requires direct, personal contact with their clients – is also what they are now navigating how best to do since they were allowed to re-open May 19.
Hairstylists experienced quite a rush in demand for their services, as everyone including Canada’s Prime Minister renounced haircuts for over two months. Sandy Duncan, who has her own chair at Hair Trendz, said the first week was exhausting and very busy.
There was some concern initially, Duncan said, that the re-opening of hair salons happened very quickly and stylists weren’t tested for COVID-19 before coming back to work. She and her stylist colleagues essentially had a week of notice, and a holiday weekend before re-opening to come up with safety plans for their business.
What this looks like at Hair Trendz is removing the salon waiting area, only having one client at a time in their space and requiring everyone to wear a mask in the salon.
“My biggest concern is my clients that are immunocompromised, that are high risk,” Duncan said. “What’s nice is, in the hairstyling industry we practise high sanitization standards…to begin with.” The regular practices continue and are amped up a notch to an ‘excessive cleaning standard’ she said. Every surface is sanitized between each customer, tools are submerged in salon disinfectant Barbicide and regular handwashing of course continues.
At Dr. Michael Lee’s dental clinic in Hope, a lot of the work starts before a client sits down in the chair.
Anna, Michael’s partner and colleague, said she begins by calling her clients and checking on their health. She also gets them to send photos of their teeth so Michael can be prepared. They are only taking necessary procedures – dental emergencies, people who are in pain or having issues with their dentures for example Anna said. Cleanings will have to wait, she added.
Once they are inside she separates them, yet usually doesn’t have more than one person in the waiting room. And they are taking clients they know, for now. “We’re being very cautious,” Anna said. “Screening is so important, we’re not aggressively taking on everybody, we just take our time and only take the (clients) we can take.”
More cleaning, sanitizing means far fewer clients
With new rules for cleaning and distancing, many local personal service businesses taking in about half the clients they normally would.
Michael Lee is open two days instead of four and during those days is only taking half the number of clients he usually would. His dental assistant is off, as she is at-risk of the virus, so Michael is doing all of the work himself. “We get hit financially,” he said.
“But at the same time we feel safer for our family because we have three kids and then his parents and my parents,” Anna added. “I feel better this way (even though) we could just re-open up.”
Shasta Angel, who does deep flow therapy work under her business The Purple Fern Bodywork and Massage, said she sees about half the clients she normally would. And 30 minutes of cleaning are involved after the session. Angel said she was very cautious in her approach, opening nearly a month after she was able to after she saw there were no huge spikes in cases.
The first day open was incredibly stressful she said, as she felt a huge responsibility for the health of her clients. “It is very overwhelming, the list of everything that you have to do in between,” she said. “That sense of responsibility was a little overwhelming at first. Now I have a groove and a rhythm and I don’t have to think so hard about it, I just kind of do it.”
Some business owners received financial relief from the government, in the form of commercial rent relief or the $2,000 per month Canada Emergency Response Benefit.
Denise Lauzon who owns Iron Butterfly Tattoo said the rent relief was very helpful, and as soon as she was able to open up again May 19 she did. Yet even with re-opening, she is only taking one client per day.
“So I can do a proper cleaning of all the services, everything in the entire shop including the counter tops, floors,” she said. “Stepping it up so there’s absolutely zero risk of contaminating another person, so just one a day I’m doing now.”
It’s about slowly opening and being very cautious, down to washing the pens her clients sign waivers with Lauzon said.
Yet even with an ongoing pandemic, Lauzon is seeing business pick up and is even busier than before the shutdown. People who come for holidays locally often get tattooed she added.
“I’ve tattooed entire families like that, grandmother, mother, daughter, all of them,” she laughed. “I have some people that I’ve tattooed eight, nine people in the family.”
Mask and gloves? No problem
This business of being masked and suited up is uncomfortable, but there is little complaining going on at these local businesses.
Michael Lee schedules breaks in between his clients, so he can take off his N95 mask and breathe. He also wears a face shield, for operative procedures, and gown.
Lauzon also wears a face mask and a face shield as she does piercings and tattoos. She offers masks for the clients who don’t have one when they come in.
Yet being back to work is nice said Lauzon, who is the artist as well as owner at Iron Butterfly. “I enjoy what I do, so it was boring being off work for a couple of months. (It’s my) passion,” she said.
Duncan, who wears a mask throughout her day, said she also provides masks to her hair clients of they don’t already have one. She repeats her mantra of “my mask protects my customers and their mask protects me” if people ask why this is necessary.
It’s an adjustment, she said, it is very hot and she has to schedule breaks so she can go outside and take a break. Having asthma and working in a mask “exhausts me a bit, I think I’m not getting the same oxygen flow I would without a mask. So it’s more tiring.”
And the mental adjustment has taken time, she adds, as hairdressing is a very social business. Recommendations include talking less, ensuring no unnecessary physical closeness with customers and refusing hugs and handshakes.
“It changes the dynamic, the entire atmosphere of the salon,” she said. “For myself, part of the reason I love to do hair is because I love connecting with my clients. And it’s different.”
Preparing for a second wave
Angel said the pandemic has brought on a massive change to her business – while she can still offer bodywork, the retreats and teachings she used to do, including a retreat planned for El Salvador in November, are off the table.
So after the first weeks of the initial pandemic shock, she said she began throwing herself into online courses on digital media and marketing. What is emerging is ‘Shasta Angel Body Wisdom’ a new name and a new way of doing business. “Getting online what I can get online and really exploring those options, for what will be coming down the pipe in the fall,” is what she’s doing right now she said.
A second wave of the coronavirus pandemic looms large as she plans this new venture, adding “I have to reinvent for this to work…re-think everything.”
Anna Lee agrees that the fall is one big question mark, but she is looking ahead at how best to prepare the dental practice for a second wave of the COVID-19 virus.
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