Hair stylists struggle to survive in Chula Vista

Barber Ivan Plascencia gives a haircut
Barber Ivan Plascencia gives a haircut to Francisco, who declined to give his last name, on the sidewalk outside Barbers Den on Third Avenue
(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Business groups say that nail and hair salons have been among the hardest hit during the pandemic


When hair stylists were allowed to work outside, Juliana Fox didn’t skip a beat. She couldn’t really afford to.

The COVID-19 pandemic had already closed salons. Twice. So Fox didn’t mind spending the day outside in downtown Chula Vista if it meant seeing her old customers again.

“It was fun,” she recalls. “My clients actually liked being outside.”

There was a festive atmosphere to that first day back.

Fox remembers feeling optimistic about her business for the first time in a long time. People walking down the street would stop and take pictures of her cutting hair and others would mention that their regular barbers still hadn’t opened. So they scheduled appointments with her.

But the good times didn’t last.

What used to be D'Celia's Salon is now an empty storefront on Third Avenue.
(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“Once my day was finished, I was told we were going to close the shop,” Fox said Friday. This time, the closure would be permanent.

Fox, an independent hair stylist, was given until the end of the month to clear her things from D’Celia’s Salon. She’s still on the hook for three months of rent accrued during the first COVID-19 closure, a debt she’ll continue to pay for a full year.

Being an independent hair stylist, Fox has rented space from salons up and down Third Avenue since 2013. It has taken her years to cultivate loyal customers. Now, she is noticing colleagues struggle amid the pandemic’s uncertainty.

“It’s like our whole industry is being obliterated,” she said. “It’s not just happening to me. It’s the whole community. It feels like this wave is coming over you.”

Juliana Fox cutting hair
Juliana Fox cutting hair the same day she learned that the salon she works at would be permanently closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Juliana Fox)

There are about 25 nail and beauty salons along Third Avenue, according to Luanne Hulsizer, the executive director of the Third Avenue Business Association. And while all types of businesses have struggled with the pandemic, this industry has been particularly impacted.

Unlike restaurants, salons weren’t given the option to do takeout service during the first wave of closures. Unlike retail shops, salons can’t pivot to online sales.

“Although everyone has been hit hard, I think that Juliana’s industry has been hit the hardest,” Hulsizer said.

Signs on the outside of Amor Full Service Salon indicate that the Third Avenue salon is closed
Signs on the outside of Amor Full Service Salon indicate that the Third Avenue salon is closed until further notice on Wednesday.
(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

There is no running count of the Third Avenue businesses that have closed for good during the pandemic. Apart from D’Celia’s Salon, the only other business that has announced a permanent closure is the Fuddruckers down across the street.

But, as the executive director of the local business association, Hulsizer hears directly from businesses on life support.

“There have been multiple members concerned about their ability to continue to pay the rent,” she said. “Although there’s a moratorium on evictions, they still have to pay. It’s not being forgiven.”
The pandemic came at a time in which Third Avenue was going through a historic comeback. An emerging craft brewery and restaurant scene had brought life to a part of downtown Chula Vista that had been a shadow of its former self ever since retailers left Third Avenue for local malls in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Now, this pandemic threatens that progress.

“This is definitely more than a speed bump,” Hulsizer said. “As with most small businesses, their budgets are very tight. I think the state and county need to come up with a solution so small businesses can function at their normal operations while monitoring those that perhaps aren’t practicing social distancing.”

Danny Daniels, owner of Barbers Den on Third Avenue, puts a sign out front of the store on Wednesday.
(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

For Fox, this latest closure hurts. She’s been a hair stylist for 17 years and has worked very hard to establish a loyal customer base. For now, she doesn’t know when or where she’ll be able to work again.

“You work so hard and you can’t let go of that,” she said. “My work is my reason for being, it’s who I am.”

She started her business right after high school and has faced her fair share of setbacks. She’s looking into setting up in a park or somewhere else along Third Avenue, though the logistics of getting the proper permitting and insurance make that easier said than done, she said.

Still, Fox remains hopeful.

“All of these hard moments where things don’t go your way, they push you to an uncomfortable place and it’s amazing what a person can do to just survive,” she said. “You’ll go, ‘wow, I didn’t know I had that in me.’”