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Highland Lakes salons work on safety as they wait to reopen

Twist Hair Studio and Spa prepares for eventual reopening

Twist Hair Studio & Spa owner Lisa Brady dons the protective gear that she and stylists at her business will wear once Gov. Greg Abbott allows hair salons to reopen. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

When Gov. Greg Abbott announced which non-essential businesses would be allowed to reopen May 1, a list that included movie theaters but not hair salons, stylist Sierra Emerson had an immediate reaction.

“I felt like I was punched in the gut,” said the owner of The Hair Saloon in Marble Falls. “I felt it was such a disrespect to our industry that they allowed movie theaters to open but not us.”

It was a sentiment shared by other Highland Lakes salon owners, stylists, and estheticians.

Leading up to his April 27 announcement, Abbott seemed to signal that hair and nail salons and barbershops would be allowed to open Friday, said Lisa Brady, owner of Twist Hair Studio & Spa in Marble Falls. She and other local beauty industry people had been meeting regularly via Zoom to discuss safe ways to reopen, protecting themselves and their clients. Brady went as far as to purchase and install touch-less faucets in her salon’s bathrooms and upgrade her air conditioner ductwork system.

She also contacted members of the governor’s Strike Force to Open Texas regarding the state’s plan to restart the economy after many non-essential businesses had been shut down for weeks to help slow the spread of the coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19.

Brady and many of her Highland Lakes counterparts were optimistic that salons would be allowed to reopen — with restrictions — on May 1.

But Abbott announced that hair and nail salons and barbershops as well as gyms and massage parlors would have to wait until at least May 18, as long as there was no spike in COVID-19 cases.

For Pam Wills, owner of Salon Capelli in Cottonwood Shores, it was a hard hit.

“It was devastating when we weren’t allowed to open,” she said.

However, she’s a pragmatist and respects the governor’s decision. Wills pointed out that he has medical experts advising him, and he is privy to information she and others are not.

Still, after being closed for more than a month, Wills can’t wait to reopen.

And it’s not just the stylists who are eager to start cutting.

“Clients are calling us every day,” Brady said. “They are banging on the door to get in.”

Julia Jones, owner of Hair Cutter’s, was already booking clients for May 1 in anticipation of the state allowing salons to reopen. The first half of the day quickly filled up, but when the governor’s announcement was made, Jones had to cancel the appointments.

Some clients have asked if stylists could come to their homes, but Twist stylist and manager Crystal Delia pointed out the risks.

The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulations, which oversees hair, beauty, and esthetician businesses in the state, is actively pursuing those who violate the governor’s directive during the COVID-19 shutdown. Punishments include fines, loss of licenses, and jail.

“It’s been hard enough to lose business during this, but to take the risks of losing everything. No, it’s not worth it,” Delia said.

Brady pointed out that the 15 stylists who work at Twist aren’t her employees; they rent a space from her.

“So, you have 15 small businesses right here in Twist,” she said.

Several of the stylists are single mothers with families who depend on their income. Things have been tough during the shutdown.

Jessica Haley, an esthetician, makeup artist, and owner of Beautiful & Blessed in Marble Falls, is a single mom. Every day her doors are closed is another day without income.

While she understands the governor’s directive, it is still difficult to understand how a movie theater can open but a salon cannot.

“We’re trained to keep our place clean and sanitized and protect our customers,” Haley said. “You’re telling me those theaters are?”

Making ends meet has been challenging the past several weeks. The Hair Saloon’s Emerson opened her salon in the beginning of 2020. She and her husband saved up so she could open it without a loan or debt. They sank three-fourths of their savings into it. Now, she’s without the income, and her husband isn’t working either.

They’ve turned to fence building to bring in money.

Many in the local beauty industry have been working together behind the scenes, preparing for the day they can reopen. Brady gathered a number of salon owners, stylists, and others in the business in the Marble Falls area for online Zoom meetings, during which they discuss issues, ideas, and concerns.

Much of the talks focus on how to maintain social distancing and other health and safety protocols when salons reopen.

Brady has purchased face shields, masks, and gloves for her stylists. Each customer will have to wear a face mask, which brings up the challenge of working on a person’s hair while they’re wearing a mask.

Jones of Hair Cutter’s pointed out that stylists will have to change their aprons and the client’s apron every time a new person sits in their chair. And, in between appointments, stations will have to be cleaned.

Brady said she will rotate stylists throughout the day and week to adhere to social distancing and health protocols, so the salon will be open seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Clients will wait in their vehicle until their appointment. When they step into the salon, someone will take their temperature using a touch-less thermometer. Each stylist also will have their temperatures taken before starting their workday.

Another safety idea is wrapping plastic around the sink where a client places their head for a wash or rinse and changing it after each person.

Jones of Hair Cutter’s and Wills of Salon Capelli thought of putting small, plastic sandwich bags over door handles and others things clients might have to touch and changing those in between customers.

The Zoom group even discussed the type of filters they should get for heating and air conditioning systems.

“You can see we’re all invested financially on our own, without the state or anyone telling us we need to do some of the things,” Wills said. “It has been a financial investment from people who are out of work.”

After salons are allowed to reopen, the group knows they will have to adapt and make changes for safety.

“As much as we are trained when we go through school or other training, we weren’t trained for something like this,” Wills said. “It’s the unknown. Even when we open, things are going to change. We have to step up a level.”

And they will. Despite the challenges and hardships, the group shares a sense of optimism.

“Yeah, it hurt when the governor said we couldn’t open (May 1),” Brady said, “but we’ve been working hard, trying to get everything ready, so, when we do (reopen), we can do the best for our clients.”

Emerson hopes clients will grant them a little grace when salon doors open for business.

“Please be patient with us,” she asked. “If we do open May 18, please understand you may not get in that day because you could be number 200 on the list. We’ll get to you, we will, but just be patient.”

For more on how COVID-19 is affecting the Highland Lakes, visit the coronavirus resources webpage.