Shut down. Reopen. Shut down. Reopen.
That’s the roller coaster hair and nail salon owners in Seal Beach have experienced the past six months during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We finally get to reopen which is something we’re excited about,” Nick Pham, owner of Solara Nail Bar on Pacific Coast Highway, said in an interview this week.
Like many businesses, salons were forced to close in March after California Governor Gavin Newsom issued the initial stay-at-home order to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus to prevent overwhelming hospitals.
As COVID-19 metrics improved, salons were allowed to reopen with safety modifications in June. A few weeks later, COVID-19 cases spiked in Orange County and across the state triggering another round of closures.
In July, Newsom said salons could offer services outdoors. Then this month, first hair salons and then nail salons were given the green light to allow customers back inside their businesses with modifications including requiring face coverings and maximizing physical distancing.
Pham said he spent $3,000 on safety upgrades. That includes installing plastic barriers at every manicure and pedicure station, buying hospital-grade sterilization equipment, as well as disinfectants, gloves, and masks.
“I want the people of Seal Beach to know they can come and enjoy and get their nails done in a safe and sanitary environment,” Pham said.
The latest reopening came after Newsom unveiled a new color-coded tier-based system for reopening guidelines. Orange County is currently in the second or red tier.
For Courtney Collins-Elzinga, the owner of Prism Salon, it’s been an “extraordinarily challenging” year. Collins-Elzinga gave birth to her first child about two weeks ago and spent most of her pregnancy figuring out how to keep her two-year-old business afloat.
During a phone interview in July, shortly after the second shutdown, Collins-Elzinga expressed frustration.
“The first round of closures I understood the reasoning,” she said noting that caution was paramount as not much was known about COVID-19 at that time. But she felt differently after the second shutdown. “This time I’m angry.”
She had invested nearly $1,000 to upgrade her salon to exceed safety guidelines only to have to close. She also challenged why beauty professionals were not allowed to work when they spent hundreds of hours on sanitation training to get their licenses. “Our industry is so sanitary,” she said in July.
Lisa Mosa, a stylist at Recharge at Electric Hair and Skin Center in Old Town, posed a similar question. “At first, I think that everyone was on board but then it’s become confusing — why isn’t the beauty industry open?” Mosa said in a phone interview this week. “The rhyme or reason of who gets shut down and who is safe has been frustrating.”
Mosa said one salon she worked at in Arcadia for decades has closed permanently as did Sunset Blvd. on Main Street. Recharge is back open and has been “swamped” with customers wanting services. Mosa praised her salon’s owner, Lisa Kovacs, for the salon’s survival. “She’s just been awesome,” Mosa said.
During the first reopening, Mosa was a little nervous about going back to work. After learning more about how COVID-19 spreads, she said she’s feeling better this time around.
“It’s a big responsibility to keep your clients safe,” Mosa said. She said customers have been impressed with her salon’s safety measures which include mask wearing for everyone, checking people’s temperatures, limiting the number of people in the salon and the purchase of an air purifier.
Woody Woodruff has owned W. Woodruff Hair Design on Main Street since 1980. He said he’s likely lost tens of thousands of dollars during the shutdowns. But he said after reopening on Sept. 9, he’s gained many new customers from neighboring Los Angeles County where salons are not allowed to operate indoors. “They are so appreciative,” Woodruff said of his customers. “We’re so grateful to them.”
He said he will still offer “al fresco” services set up in a parking space behind the business for customers who are uncomfortable getting haircuts indoors. In a Facebook post in August, the salon declared the “outside hairstyling ‘resort’ has been a big hit with clients.”
Inside Select Nail House on Main Street Sunday afternoon, a few people were getting their nails done. Customers had to get their temperature taken at the door, use hand sanitizer and fill out a COVID-19 form.
The owner Kim Ta said her landlord’s generosity has helped her more than 30-year-old business endure. “Everybody’s suffering,” she said. “We’ll get through this.”
Collins-Elzinga of Prism salon reported that her business is back open. “I’m excited to see everything come together,” she wrote in an email but added she’s also thinking about the future.
“We are still fighting to be an essential business so that when [Newsom] does do shutdowns again we aren’t part of the list. This is based on our level of sanitation and education,” she wrote and explained that the Professional Beauty Federation of California is leading the effort.
“We hope we can stay open for the rest of the year with the upcoming flu season,” Pham of Solara Nail Bar said, noting the holiday season is usually busy at the salon.
“From the news that we have seen … no one has caught COVID getting their hair or their nails done,” Pham said. “These types of businesses are really paying attention to the safety guidelines and for that I’m hopeful.”