San Diego salons are open — and expecting an avalanche of business
Need a hair appointment? Get in line.
Salons and barbershops are officially allowed to reopen in San Diego County, stirring an emotional reaction from hairstylists and salon owners throughout the region. But good luck getting an appointment any time soon.
The news broke late Tuesday — first from Gov. Gavin Newsom and later by San Diego County officials — that barbers and stylists can safely return to work Wednesday, as long as they adhere to a reopening plan that meets a range of safety rules from mask-wearing to intensified sanitation practices.
But some salon owners say reopening won’t happen immediately. And even when they do, waits for new appointments could be lengthy.
Hair salons and barbershops are among some of the last small, brick-and-mortar businesses allowed to welcome back guests during California’s staged reopening, save nail salons, which are still deemed too dangerous by county officials. The word induced a wave of relief for salon owners in San Diego County who say they’re more vulnerable than many other shops due to their slim profit margins.
“I actually cried, happy tears,” said Paola Cardenas, who co-owns City Cuts Barber Shop in Downtown San Diego with her husband Jesse. “It was two and a half months with no work, with nothing. So I just cried and I was really emotional — I had to call my mom because I was so excited I can finally have my life back.”
Reopenings delayed by preparations, appointments filling up quickly
But reopening may not be swift, as the news hit faster than some owners were expecting. Previous estimates of when salons and barbershops might be allowed to reopen cited June or as late as July as potential time frames.
“All of us were caught quite off guard with the ‘ready, set, open,’” said Gayle Fulbright, owner of Headlines The Salon in Encinitas. “It was a little abrupt and now there’s a lot of panic to get ready.”
Many are pausing to stock up on supplies, establish safety protocols and clarify what the new guidelines mean before reopening next week.
“I was waiting for the news like a kid,” Cardenas said. “I was in shock. Yesterday I went to clean and disinfect the shop, but I still want to see more requirements because I don’t want to just open, I want more information for the safety of my clients.”
One local stylist, independent contractor Isela LeClair, used her time during the lockdown to find a new salon to work out of. Come opening day next week, she’ll be at Salon 1745 in Normal Heights, which she expects to be a safer environment than the pre-pandemic salon where she once rented space.
“Part of the reason why I’m starting at a new salon is that the one I was at was not taking COVID-19 and the guidelines seriously,” LeClair said. “I just felt that ethically it wasn’t right to continue working, or that it was ethical to continue running an establishment that serves a lot of clients very personally during a pandemic.”
Fulbright, Cardenas and Salon 1745 all expect to reopen their doors on June 1, and other salons in the area are shooting for a similar timeline.
“We got the guidelines on the same day we were allowed to reopen,” said Marc Kulch, owner of Salon on 30th in South Park. “We’ve been closed all these months, so I wish they would have done more planning. It would have been great to get a week’s notice.”
Kulch said he needs to rehire staff members, create schedules, train employees on new protocols and ready his shop. This will take a few days.
While shops are rebooting their businesses, clients are queuing up for haircuts, owners said. Kulch started receiving emails from longtime clients Tuesday night, and his cell phone voicemail box is piling up with inquiring customers.
“We had to turn off our phones and turn on an automated recording because they were ringing nonstop,” Fulbright said. “We said, ‘We will call you. Don’t call us.’”
The backlog of client appointments might make it tough to get into a new salon for the first time. Fulbright said longtime clients are all “jockeying for position,” using their tenure as loyal customers as reasoning to be first in line for a new appointment.
“Most salon owners I’ve been speaking to don’t plan on taking new clients because they have so many existing clients they need to schedule first,” Fulbright said.
Some clients eager, others not so much
Demi Woodson, a resident in Clairemont, said she’s already booked an appointment with her stylist for next week. Her hairdresser, Kellie Davis, works at Golden Touch Salon, where each stylist has their own private room.
Woodson, a tax preparer and educator who spends a lot of time on camera, said it’s important for her to keep her appearance clean-cut.
“We’re reopening our office for clients, so having a professional look is very important for me,” said Woodson, who works at Horizon Planning Tax & Bookkeeping Services in Kearny Mesa.
Peggy Travis, a registered nurse and resident of Pacific Beach, said she’s not chomping at the bit to get into a hair appointment.
“Personally, I respect my stylist for waiting another month,” Travis said. “She has two little kids, as do I, and I’m OK waiting for all our safety. It’s just hair. Another few weeks won’t change much.”
Stylists prepare to correct botched quarantine haircuts
Some stylists said they’re worried clients will have taken their hair into their own hands during quarantine, creating more work for the professionals.
“Anyone who went rogue and did home color might have to have a consultation first through Zoom just to make sure they know what to expect,” Kulch said. “Color corrections can take four to six hours.”
LeClair mixed color formulas for regular customers and instructed them for at-home hair color, but many waited to do their hair until they could see her in-person. She’s hopeful that there won’t be too many extreme hair fixes to manage.
“We’ve pretty much seen it all, so I think anything can be corrected,” LeClair said. “They always say the difference between a good and a bad haircut is two weeks, so if they mess up their haircut, we can fix it.”
Sharone Bishop, who runs a booth at Velvet Skin and Hair in Banker’s Hill, said many of her clients want to take drastic changes once they’re back in the chair.
“People are getting bolder,” she said. “It’s sort of giving people a little more incentive to do something interesting, even if they haven’t botched it and they’ve just been staring at their roots and their split ends as they pulled it back into a ponytail a million times.”
Salon experience reshaped by health restrictions
For those lucky enough to score a hair slot, the experience might be a bit different than pre-COVID-19 days. New regulations require that salons keep six feet of distance between clients, meaning many shops will eliminate every other chair or shampoo bowl.
Sanitation rules are also intensified, requiring employees to clean high traffic areas, such as reception desks, handrails and doorknobs more frequently.
“Our industry has always practiced sanitation, we’re just doing it on steroids with the new COVID-19 laws,” Fulbright said.
Customers and workers both are required to wear face masks while onsite, and once-luxurious amenities are now likely to disappear from salon waiting rooms.
“We’ll have people call us when they arrive and not have waiting areas with drinks and magazines like before,” Kulch said.
Emiliano Zermeno grew up in the Leucadia Barber Shop, which his mom owns and he now manages.
Purchasing masks and disposable capes, plus the the need to stagger and limit the number of customers, led him to slightly increase prices when he opened Wednesday morning. His first day back in business was a busy one, and the barbers were all booked at their new capacity.
Zermeno worried customers would be uncomfortable with the new restrictions and costs, but so far they’ve been on board with the changes.
"(The customers) are all good with it,” he said. “At first it felt like it was going to be uncomfortable, but I think everybody is used to it now since you can’t go to any stores without masks.”
While shops are allowed to reopen for haircuts and styling, any procedure that involves touching someone’s face are still prohibited, including beard trimming, eyebrow waxing, facials and eyelash extensions.
Shop owners and stylists expressed hope that customers will continue to be patient as they navigate the changes.
“There’s heightened emotions right now, with people reacting poorly to the changes and the masks,” Kulch said. “These businesses are just trying to follow the guidelines and have a safe environment for their team and their clients. The biggest gift you can give us all now is patience and kindness.”
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