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What will it take to reopen salons safely?

(WCAX)
Published: May. 12, 2020 at 4:44 PM EDT
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As retail and other areas of the economy get reopening dates, other workers are still in limbo wondering when they'll be able to earn a paycheck again. Among those are personal care industries like salons and spas.

A survey of a couple of hundred Vermont stylists on a Facebook group found a wide range of opinions about when people who worked in the hair care industry felt it would be safe to reopen. Some said they would go back now. Others want the governor to hold off until later in the summer. And many expressed concerns about not knowing when-- or how-- they'll get back to work.

For two months, pretty much the only person coming through the Chop Shop's doors in Burlington has been owner Glenn Brown.

"You become almost numb to the fact that you just don't know when you're going to open up," Brown said.

He's had to call 800 clients to postpone appointments indefinitely.

Brown says closing down during a busy time of year was a big financial blow that unemployment hasn't been able to make up for.

"We are looking at a loss of somewhere in the neighborhood of $75,000, maybe more," he said.

He says they are already trained in sanitation and disinfection. And they are preparing to take extra precautions, like wearing masks, having customers wait outside, taking temperatures and putting plexiglass up to physically separate workspaces once they are allowed to reopen, which he says should be ASAP.

"Add what you need to add to help us so we can get back to work," Brown said.

"As soon as the governor gives us the greenlight, we're not going to delay any longer. As soon as we have the safe go-ahead, we'll be opening," said Mary Motto, who owns the Red Clover Salon in Essex Junction.

Motto took the opportunity to put down the hairbrush and pick up a paintbrush. Instead of painting hair, she's painting walls. She hopes her clients will be patient with whatever rules they have to put in place and the backlog of appointments when they're allowed to reopen.

"It's really important to have everyone as safe as possible through really difficult times," Motto said.

However, we heard from several people who didn't want to go on camera because they were worried about losing their employment, but who said they were concerned about their safety. We had one woman tell us she doesn't feel comfortable being right on top of someone and cutting their hair. Another says she has cancer and doesn't want to be that close to her customers. One said that she needs child care before she can go back to work. And yet another said she's not going to risk her life for someone's roots.

We wanted to know if customers feel safe going back.

"Generally, I feel pretty safe here in Vermont. I think we've got it under control for the most part but it would be a little weird if they weren't wearing a mask. I think that might bother me. I'm not sure," said Jason Divece of Burlington.

"I think pretty much everybody is on board. I think that if they're going to open, they're going to open in the proper way, being really safe about it," said Angel Cherrier of Milton.

I asked the governor and his team on Monday about when personal care industries might reopen. They were not able to give a date yet and said they'll be closely watching public health data. But they did promise a phased approach, which means some services may not be available right away. That was another concern I heard from some in the industry: that even if they are able to return to the job, that they might not be able to make enough money to make ends meet.

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