Salons eye safer openings — some, before Murphy makes it legal
Two big questions face salons and personal care businesses as they eye potential reopenings in an ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The first, and most universal: How to assure their customers it's safe to be in close contact with a stylist for several minutes — perhaps hours, in some cases. That's to say nothing of the other customers coming in and out.
The second — whether to jump ahead of Gov. Murphy's still open-ended and cautious plans to ease New Jersey back into the retail and service business economy. The governor has described New Jersey as in the first of several stages in his "Road to Recovery," allowing for certain outdoor activities and expanded elective medical care.
It's not clear when a second stage, with "limited personal care" in the mix, might start — though Murphy has signaled it could be within weeks.
That may not be fast enough for the owners of Liquid Hair Salon in East Brunswick, who announced this weekend on Facebook they'd open in mid-June even if the governor hasn't yet eased his executive orders shutting down businesses. Exact procedures for protecting customer safety would come soon, the owners said.
The response from patrons was mixed.
"God bless you!" wrote Rosemary Palmer Hartman in response. "Those that fought & sacrificed didn't live in fear, they were afraid but still fought. They're rolling over in their graves at what's going on now!"
Lorie-Anne Browne said she'll be there "with bells on."
But several others told the owners in Facebook comments it's too soon to reopen. From Christopher Bowen: "How about you consider the safety of your employees first? Then maybe consider the community. NJ has more cases than most countries but some how this has become about God and freedom."
And some bristled at the salon's invocation of the sacrifices of American service members.
"That you have compared your business struggle to the liberation of slaves and the sacrifice of service members from two world wars is a spectacular display of greed and arrogance," Thomas Gray wrote.
But the owners of many businesses considering defying the governor's orders and opening up say it's not about greed — it's about having a business to come back to at all.
Nicholas Mirabella, who co-owns the Brick & Mirror Beauty Bar and Hair Salon alongside George Verdis, told New Jersey 101.5 last week he's not interested in the spectacle that surrounded the opening of a Bellmawr gym this week, as dozens to hundreds of supporters gathered with signs and flags in the gym's parking lot for several days. The gym was eventually shut down through a health order after its owners were issued several citations, and they've announced plans to file a lawsuit challenging Murphy's authority to shut businesses at all.
Mirabella said he and his co-owner are confused over discrepancies as to what makes certain other small businesses, such as pet groomers, "essential" in the state's eyes, while there own beauty bar and salon isn't.
He told told New Jersey 101.5 Brick & Mirror plans to open up on June 1, even in defiance of the governor's order — but he's willing to punt for a few weeks if there are signs of cooperation and consideration from the governor's office.
What's not yet fully clear is what sorts of restrictions and guidelines the governor's office will issue if and when it does allow "limited personal care."
"The only thing that sways me are the facts and the data and the science," Murphy told CNN's "New Day" on Monday. "And listen, I want to open salons and gyms as much as anybody, but I think folks know this, but when you talk about indoors, lack of ventilation, close proximity, sedentary ... we're not there yet. I want to do it responsibly, and I don't want to kill anybody."
Murphy has more broadly spoken about limiting business's indoor capacity as they reopen.
“If there’s other guidelines we have to get equipment for or the proper solution to sanitize with, we’ll be on hold until that comes in, but as of June 1, I don’t see it being difficult to find everything we need to keep things sanitary,” Mirabella told New Jersey 101.5 last week.
Working ahead, but not open yet
Louis Christian, co-owner of Louis Christian Robert John Salon in Cherry Hill, is one of the organizers of a group calling itself the South Jersey Salon Owners Initiative. He and coorganizer Frank Rizzieri of Rizzieri Salon and Spa have been working on plans for safe reopenings, once the governor's executive order is lifted or loosened.
"If we all stick together and we all believe in the same protocols that it will be much easier for all of us to understand how a client's safety and how our operator's safety is with the unknown," Christian said.
He said the owners have been stressed by prospect of operating at half-capacity once they reopen.
"We put our egos aside and are trying to work as one," Christian said.
When salons and barberships reopen it will be a different experience for customers and stylists alike and a "new normal," he said."
Patrons will wait in their cars, not indoors, he said. Staff will work in 45-minute service shifts, giving them time in between to sanitize their stations. Customers coming in the door will have their hands sanitized, will be asked questions to screen them for potential symptomatic COVID-19 and will have their temperatures taken, he said.
And once inside, they'll be sat in every other station, allowing for six feet of distance between customers, Christian said.
Customers and stylists alike will wear masks, Christian said. Every cape will be washed after every use.
"Everyone goes to the salon because of the casualness," Christian said. "It's fun, it's upbeat, it's usually a great place with a great environment. Hopefully we can get through all the gear to make it that but at the beginning it's going to be a little rough, I can tell.
Waxing won't be offered, for now, he said.
Christian's entire staff had to take a barbicide course on sanitation, and his salon will add a sanitation fee wto everyone's bill to cover the cost of new supplies, he said.
Christian expects that as a result of restrictions and cautious business practices, half the salons in New Jersey will have to close.
"They're cutting our business in half. We're working at half capacity and then they're adding all these other expenses, so it's changing the way we do business so it's kind of sad," Christian said.