Personal care industry reopens after a year of stops and starts

Shag Salon, like every other salon across the state, has had a rollercoaster of a year.

The salon was one of the businesses deemed “non-essential” during the initial Covid-19 shelter-in-place order, and shut down on March 17. It was allowed to reopen in July, but only for a brief moment, forced to close until the industry got the eventual OK to operate in September. But the latest shelter-in-place order in December shut down salons again.

Now, with the state’s decision to lift the order on Jan. 25, Shag Salon, at 64 Fifth St. in downtown Gilroy, reopened once again on Feb. 2. The business, owned by Rhonda Rodgers and managed by her daughters Lea Orlando and Heather Pacheco, knows what to expect in its fourth go-round.

“My cell phone has been ringing off the hook, the salon phone has been ringing off the hook,” Pacheco said. “It’s been a little bit crazy. We’re trying to take it in stride, and people have been really understanding.

“We’re just going back with a positive attitude. We’re not dwelling on things.”

During the shutdowns, Shag Salon had to learn to pivot its business model to stay afloat, Pacheco said. It began offering curbside pickup of its Aveda hair and skin products, as well as free delivery within the Gilroy and Morgan Hill area. The salon also began creating how-to videos and holding drawings on social media to connect with clients.

Pacheco said that if not for the pandemic, the salon likely never would have offered such services.

“I’m so thankful and grateful we have a salon that survived this,” she said. “I’m thankful I work with intelligent people that helped pivot our business to the point where we not only survive, but we thrive through this.”

With the reopening comes a number of safety protocols. Clients, who are now greeted with a hello instead of a hug, Pacheco noted, must have their temperature checked and sign a wellness form before entering the building. All staff wear masks and a face shield, and must spend 15 minutes sanitizing their stations between each client.

As a result, to reduce the number of people within the building at any given time, the stylists currently do not work full-time. Pre-pandemic, stylists would see roughly 12 clients a day, but now, that number has dropped to four, which is difficult for a commission-based position, Pacheco said.

In recent months, the salon lost a stylist, who moved to Texas as she was unable to afford rent in California, as well as two receptionists. Two receptionists have since been hired to fill the gap.

“I’m really proud of our staff,” Pacheco said. “They have been super helpful, and whatever they need to do they’ve jumped in. We’ve gotten really lucky with a wonderful staff.”

Personal care industry laments state’s rhetoric

Santa Clara County health officials confirmed Jan. 28 that they have no knowledge of any coronavirus outbreaks traced back to salons.

In a lawsuit filed recently against Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state officials, the Professional Beauty Federation of California (PBFC) argues California singled out the industry because of its lack of lobbying power.

“The personal services sectors are the quintessential small business sectors,” PBFC attorney Fred Jones said in a recent phone call, “and yet, because we don’t have the same clout as Hollywood or big business, we have become the sacrificial lambs to the Covid gods.”

It’s a sacrifice borne disproportionately by minorities, he points out.

The state’s focus on salons and cosmetic services has hammered an industry composed overwhelmingly of women, immigrants and members of LGBTQ community. Of PBFC’s 621,000 dues-paying licensees, Jones said, more than 80 percent are female and 75 percent are first-generation immigrants.

“This is the profession that this governor has sacrificed,” he said. “That’s not very politically correct, is it?”

In Jones’ telling, the industry’s financial woes began when Newsom blamed a Northern California nail salon for the first known case of community spread of the novel coronavirus. PBFC, reporters and other industry groups demanded data to support the assertion. State officials never provided that.

“What he didn’t realize was that he was throwing all this shade at our industry in the minds of Californians,” Jones said. “As a result, we’ve had a cumulative seven months of lockdowns. This is our third reopening after our third closure since March, and every time we reopen, there are less clients coming back because they’re picking up the message that this industry is unsafe.”

WE ARE OPEN  Shag Salon has reopened for the fourth time in the past year. Photo: Erik Chalhoub

While state officials and their local counterparts repeated the narrative of the dangers inherent to salons, research by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggested otherwise. The study published last summer found face masks may have prevented a pair of Covid-positive Missouri hairstylists from spreading the virus to as many as 140 clients.

Missouri’s Springfield-Greene County Health Department, which led the investigation, determined that policies requiring people to cover mouths and noses and the salon’s strict sanitation policies played a substantial role in curbing what could have been a huge outbreak.

Jen Erickson, founder and CEO of Silicon Valley Apprenticeship Barbering/Cosmetology and a 25-year industry veteran, said clients should rest assured that salons are safe to patronize. Passing the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology test requires 1,600 class-hours—about 1,000 more than needed to become a police officer—and fluency in sterilization and cross-contamination.

“With the pandemic,” she said, “a lot of us even went above and beyond, retrofitting salons to make things safe, spending money even though we weren’t making any.”

If public health officials produced data that showed salons as high-risk for coronavirus outbreaks, that would be one thing, Jones said. But he has yet to see any from the state or local governments. What few numbers are available seem to back his suspicions about the shutdowns being less science-and-data-based than Newsom lets on.

Statistics released in December by the New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office show that 74 percent of Covid cases for which there’s contact-tracing data available were attributed to household gatherings. Bars and restaurants accounted for just 1.43 percent of the spread. Salons and personal care services, just 0.14 percent. 

Jones wants to see similar California data.

Pacheco said she welcomes the reopening news, but wishes the salon industry got a heads up earlier to prevent what she called a chaotic scramble.

The steps the salon industry has taken to further bolster its safety protocols should boost clients’ confidence that they are in a safe environment, Pacheco said. Still, she expects business to remain tight as it weathers the coming months.

“We’re excited to see our guests, but we would love to be at full capacity,” she said.

Shag Salon is currently rebooking guests who had previous appointments, and expects to take in new bookings later in the month. For information, visit or .

Jennifer Wadsworth contributed to this article.

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