“We’re booked solid for the next three weeks”: Toronto hair stylists on their reopening plans
When Ontario ordered all non-essential businesses to close in April, hair salons were among the most deeply mourned, with protesters petitioning Queen’s Park for their right to a haircut and quarantiners adopting decidedly shaggier ‘dos. But as of Wednesday, hair salons were given the clear to reopen—as long as they adhered to an eight-page safety manual. We spoke with stylists about their reopening plans, new protocols and how one maintains social distancing while measuring face-framing layers.
Michele Bonnick, Amani Hair Studio
“I’ve owned Amani Hair Studios at Yonge and Eglinton for the last 15 years. We closed our doors on March 20, and I’ve been planning how we were going to reopen ever since. Right away, I ordered disposable capes for our clients and disposable aprons for our stylists. I also ordered a thermometer gun and stocked up on hand sanitizer and 70-per-cent alcohol. While the salon was closed, I went in and rearranged things to make sure everything will be 100-per-cent safe when we reopen. We had four stations in the front of the salon, and I removed one to make sure we had six feet of space between each chair. I hung plastic curtains from the ceiling to create a physical barrier between each station, and we’re adding an extra half-hour between appointments to clean implements, wipe down chairs and doorknobs, and just to go the whole nine yards before another person can sit in the same chair.
“As soon as a client comes through the door, we’ll ask them to sanitize their hands, then we’ll screen them to make sure they haven’t exhibited symptoms or been around anyone who’s infected. We will take their temperature with the thermometer gun, and if everything is A-OK, they will be able to begin their appointment. Last week I had a meeting with all my stylists where we ran through all the new procedures we’re going to implement, making sure everyone is wearing their mask and gloves, to ensure we’re all ready to go.
“I didn’t book any appointments during lockdown because I wasn’t too sure when we’d be able to reopen and I didn’t want to go though the hell of having to reschedule every appointment. I made a list of clients whose appointments we had to cancel before the pandemic and clients who wanted to book a new appointment during, and right now it’s at about 150 people. The people I’ll be calling first are the ones who sounded desperate for an appointment, or who require a chemical service, like a relaxer.
“The entire time the salon has been closed, I’ve had people texting me like crazy saying, ‘Hey, when are you guys reopening?’ Some people have even offered me extra money to do their hair, but I always said no. To be honest, I’m a little bit overwhelmed because the emails are going off and the phone is going crazy. I’ve got to go through this entire list of clients and slot everyone in appropriately. But I’m excited because I miss my clients. I miss socializing. I miss catching up. I can’t wait to open back up.”
Ashley Brewsmith, The Proudest Pony Hair & Co.
“In the weeks we were closed, I gave the Proudest Pony a total makeover. I removed a lot of extra furniture. Anything with soft fabric is gone, because we can’t sterilize it. I installed a hand sanitizer station at the entrance of the salon, as well as a sneeze guard at the cash desk to prevent droplets from being transmitted while customers are paying. I’ve also ordered face shields for the stylists to wear, and we’ll ask both customers and stylists to wear masks. In order to keep six feet apart, we’ll only have two stylists working at a time, but we will be open seven days a week. Before Covid, we had five stylists working five days a week.
“The past few days have been…oh my gosh. All of the stylists at Proudest Pony have made their own priority lists for clients. My waitlist is about 170 people. I just got off the phone with one of my stylists, who has 40 clients on hers. It’s hefty. I think each stylist has at least 10 working days’ worth of clients on their waitlists, and we can each only work an average of three days each week, so we will likely start opening up for regular bookings by mid-August. The waitlist is first come, first serve, but there’s definitely priority for people whose appointments had to be cancelled right when Covid hit. We’ve tried to bump those appointments up, so the people waiting the longest will be the first ones seen.
“We definitely got emails from people who got restless and bleached their own hair and are wondering what to do. In the last few weeks, people have been asking if we’re doing under-the-table haircuts—we’re not. I’ve taken the past few months to develop a product line. We’re going to be launching our own Proudest Pony shampoo and conditioning bars this summer.
“I’m not that nervous about going back to work, because in a hair salon we’re already cleaning all the time and are hyper-vigilant about not touching our faces. I’m always use my upper arm to scratch my face, because I often have hair colour or product on my hands. I’m just excited to get back to work and do it in a safe way.”
Selena Hofmann, Hair Holistic
“At Hair Holistic, the plan has always been to go back when we know it’s safe, rather than when the government says it’s safe. We offer low-fragrance and low-toxin products, so a lot of people come to us because they have sensitivities or compromised immune systems. Instead of fully opening up right away, we are planning a soft open this weekend, styling a few clients per day to get used to the new reality of wearing a mask at work. There’s obviously a lot of pressure to go back right away, but I’m going to to take it slow, starting off with one or two clients every few days until I feel safe to take on more.
“We’re fortunate to have enough space between our three regular stations to cover the six-foot distance, but just to be safe, we’ve reinstalled one of the stations where the waiting area used to be so we can work even farther apart. Diana Osborne, Hair Holistic’s founder, even constructed a plexiglass barrier between the two wash basins, since that’s the only area in the studio where we otherwise wouldn’t be able to distance if both of us were trying to wash hair at the same time. For now, the face mask will be sufficient for most types of services, but we have face shields if needed.
“Both Diana and I are in a Facebook group for hairstylists in Ontario, and I’ve seen some horror stories from other stylists about people offering to pay them off to do a haircut in secret. People have been really desperate. I’m thankful that I haven’t experienced anything like that. If I had, I would be questioning my relationship with the client. I can’t judge anyone who has been offering black-market haircuts, maybe that’s what they need to do to survive, but I’ve been very grateful for the CERB.
“In hair school, we learned to cut hair a specific way, and now that completely changing. We can no longer face-frame a haircut knowing what our client’s cheeks and mouth look like—we need to imagine what the haircut will look like on someone whose face is half-covered. Instead, we’re doing a lot of virtual consultations to help us picture what a person looks like before they come in. It’s a new adventure and I’m always up for a challenge. It will make us better hairdressers in the end. It’ll be interesting.”
Tyler Moore, Parlour Salon
“A week after we closed, I started preparations for reopening, installing a number of hand sinks. When the province announced we could reopen, we were basically ready to go. I was a little frazzled that we only had a day and a half’s notice, but I’ll take it.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve left our online booking system in place so that way
people could schedule themselves and we didn’t have to go through a whole list of people and try to organize it that way. As you can imagine, we’ve had to send out a lot of cancellations. At first there was a bit of pushback, but soon everybody got into the swing of it and understood.
“Thankfully, all of our locations are blessed with lots of square footage, so I haven’t had to
rearrange much. We’re working every second chair, which gives us even more space than necessary. All the stylists are going to be wearing full PPE, including scrubs that they change every day. It’s going to look like a hospital at first. We’ve also spaced out the appointments, making each one longer to ensure there’s no overlap. We’re only washing client’s hair when we have to, if they’re getting their hair coloured and we need to rinse it out.
“We’re telling our clients about the new protocols via emails, our website and the phone. I don’t expect most people to going to pay attention, but we have signage to make everything clear. Everybody needs to wear a mask to come into the salon. We have extras to hand out to clients if they aren’t prepared. In order to accommodate everyone, we will be open seven days a week, and from Thursdays to Sundays we will be open for 12 hours from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The stylists will be working in shifts.
“Hairdressers were late in the game getting back to work, and I’m glad to be back. Because we have such high health standards to begin, it was strange the government held off on us for so long. I’m pretty nervous about reopening because this is totally new way of operating. I’m sure in the first two weeks there will be some hiccups.”
Asha McLeod, Jazma Hair Inc.
“I opened Jazma Hair Inc. back in 1983. We manufacture our own hair products, and people who don’t even come to our salon use them, so when we closed, we moved right into curbside pickup. I’d come in for three hours a day so people could pick up their orders. For two and a half months, I had lots of nice lazy days, then…boom. In the last few days, the pace has gone from zero to 10.
“I started a waiting list a week ago with 120 people on it. Yesterday, we had 80 phone messages, and now there are another 120 today. Soon there will likely be another 40. I’ve had to triage bookings—there are clients with cancelled appointments, clients who come in every week, and clients who have been coming to see me for 40 years, and I have to consider all that.
“I sent all my clients an email breaking down the new protocols we have in place. The doors are locked, and they will have to call to be let in. That’s been a problem, because we’re getting so many calls some of them are going to the machine. Clients aren’t allowed to bring in handbags, they must wear a mask, and we provide disposable shoe covers and a hospital gown to put on over their clothes. Stylists will also be wearing masks, gowns and face shields.
“My beautiful waiting room has been turned into a shipping area, filled with boxes for the curbside pickup orders. We’re not supposed to use blow dryers but we have a back patio, so we’re going to run an extension cord out there; when it’s not raining, we’ll put a hood dryer out there.
“Going forward, we’ll be working at a third of our capacity, seeing 10 clients in a day instead of 30. We’re not going to take new clients for a while. I’m not sure it’s going to be worthwhile to stay in business. Between paying the rent and paying the employees, it won’t be profitable. Yesterday I broke down crying—I had trouble handling the pressure. Then I remembered to breathe and practise mindfulness. I’m feeling better today.
“I told myself, ‘What we’re here to do is serve humanity.’ We work in the type of community that needs us, so we have to say be grateful and worry later. I’m just going one day at a time.”
Ivan Bruna, Tony Shamas Hair & Laser
“During lockdown, a lot of people contacted us about colouring their hair. So we decided to set up a root touch-up kit for current clients whose hair-colour formula was on file. It cost the same as getting your hair coloured in the salon and includes personalized colour, instructions, a paintbrush, cape, gloves and tea for them to enjoy while the colour is processing. We also created a Spotify playlist of the music we normally play in the salon people can listen to while doing their own hair. We’ve sold hundreds of touch-up kits so far. The first day we made them available for purchase, we got over 50 orders in a matter of minutes. The orders kept coming, and people have been repurchasing them, sometimes as many as three times.
“Before we found out we could reopen, we started booking tentative appointments. That way, we were able to take care of about 30 per cent of the 350 people on our waiting list. Now we have to call the rest of the people on this list and schedule them in. We’re already booked solid for the next three weeks.
“From now on, our doors will be closed and people will have to buzz to get in. We will confirm they have an appointment, and if they come early, they will have to wait outside. We will ask them a few questions about their health and take their temperatures before they can come in. If they don’t have a mask, we will provide one, as well as gloves. All the stylists will be wearing masks and face shields. We already have stations that are spread out six feet apart, so we put in plexiglass dividers to make everyone feel more comfortable. The room where we wash clients’ hair is called the Escape Room. Normally we keep the door closed and play relaxing music in there, but now we will leave the door open for airflow. Usually, if somebody books a colour and a cut, another client can come in and get a haircut while the other client’s hair is processing. We don’t do that kind of double-booking anymore.
“Right now we’re just excited to be able to come back to work and serve everybody. People have been really anxious about getting their hair done, and they told us what they were going through in the emails they sent. It’s a little bit overwhelming, but I’m confident everyone will keep the masks on and follow the safety guidelines.”