Hair Salons In Austin Can Legally Reopen – With Safety Protocols That Could Trim Bottom Lines

Two clients are getting their hair done at Path Salon in South Austin today. The appointments are owner Ryan Driggers' way of testing new protocols at the salon.

Driggers said the reopening comes with a lot of emotions.

“I share a little bit of the worry of some of my stylists,” he said. “We're doing everything we can to make sure it's as safe as possible."

Hair salons, as well as barbershops and nail and tanning salons, were legally allowed to reopen today, with safety restrictions. The move marks the start of phase two of Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to reopen the state’s economy – 10 days earlier than he originally suggested.

The safety recommendations are intended to keep staff and customers feeling comfortable in close quarters as the coronavirus pandemic continues. Chairs or workstations must be at least 6 feet apart and cleaned after each customer. The governor also recommends supplies be disposable, if possible, and if not that they be sanitized between clients.

Driggers said Path stylists and clients will be required to wear masks, and that clients must wait in their car until being called to enter the building. Clients will enter and exit through different entrances, so no one passes another person. He said there will be no more than 10 people allowed in the salon at any given time. Path will also disinfect stations after each service. 

Lori Dowty has been styling hair for 20 years. She rents space for her LJ Studio within a larger salon at South Park Meadows. She wants to return to work, but she’s facing a number of hurdles. First, there's the upfront costs for new protective equipment.

“There are a lot of stylists saying that they’re having a hard time getting all of the supplies,” she said. “People are wanting to get disposable capes and disposable aprons, and it can be pretty costly, especially when you’ve been out of work for a while.”

Cleaning products also have been difficult to come by for weeks.

Dowty also worries about maintaining her spot in the salon. Stylists often rent space from an owner for around $250-$300 a week. The forced closure by the state put a pause on that fee, but starting today, the chair rental starts accruing again whether Dowty has the safety equipment or not.

Another sizable hurdle is child care, which is available only to essential workers right now – and that does not include hair stylists and barbers. And while the state seems to be speeding up changes regarding businesses, Dowty’s day care has not indicated it's ready to open up.

“They have not given me any indication,” she said. “They just gave me a letter that says, ‘Before a parent can continue using child daycare services, the parent will be required to verify his or her essential-service employee status.’”

She says the prospect of a paycheck set against potential exposure to the coronavirus have set her on an emotional rollercoaster this week.

Chelle Neff, who owns Urban Betty Salon, said if salons were forced to stay closed another month her business would go under. Because of that, she's planning to reopen May 18.

“If I could be closed during this whole thing would I want that? Yes," she said. "Do I have that luxury? No.”

Neff said she's had to use her business’ savings to pay for costs at both her salons. While she received a small-business loan from the federal government, she said she's scared to use it in case she isn’t able to pay it back.

The two salons will be open seven days a week, about 12 hours a day to serve as many clients as possible while maintaining physical distance. The salons will take the temperatures of anyone who enters, and stylists won't blow dry hair to try to reduce germs being blown around. Neff is also requiring stylists and clients to wear masks.

Hair salon and barbershop closures have been a flashpoint in Texas since Abbott’s order. One salon owner in Dallas County was jailed briefly this week for refusing to close her shop while the order was in place. Another was photographed giving illegal haircuts to two state legislators in the Woodlands.

This story has been updated.

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