Barbershops, hair salons, cosmetology, nail salons, massage therapy, tanning salons and tattoo parlors were the latest to reopen to the public in Kentucky this past Memorial Day, May 25, after being closed for more than two months.
In mid-March, Gov. Andy Beshear and state health officials ordered that all non-essential public-facing businesses be closed in order to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
The state needed to meet certain benchmarks in order to allow areas of the state’s economy to reopen, similarly to other states. These benchmarks included having 14 days of decreasing cases and increased testing capacity on contract testing, among others, according to the “Healthy At Work” initiative.
Beshear and state officials started reopening sectors of the economy on May 11, and more sectors will continue to reopen in June and July. Beshear said he wants the state to conduct a “safe and sustainable reopening” of the economy while continuing to fight against COVID-19.
“Our goal is to reopen Kentucky’s economy in a gradual and safe way, to ensure that we can get people back to work,” Beshear said. “But at the same time, we acknowledge none of us have ever seen a worldwide pandemic like this in our lifetime.”
Janice Johnson, owner of Studio 23 Hair Salon in downtown Pikeville, reopened her store on May 25 and said that many customers were waiting outside, eager to schedule appointments and have their hair done.
“We actually had to turn some people away that day because there was such a demand,” Johnson said.
Every sector must abide by the state’s health guidelines in order to reopen, though, and the guidelines are unique to every sector. They are aimed at encouraging social distancing — keeping six feet of distance away from others — and reducing in-person contact as much as possible.
Barbers, cosmetologists and hair salons must limit the number of clients present in any given business that are present to 33 percent of the occupational capacity of the facility, with employees being excluded from this 33 percent maximum. They are encouraged to reduce the use of inside waiting areas, or they should at least offer clients the chance to wait outside.
State health officials also encourage barbers, cosmetologists and hair salons to modify traffic flow, to the greatest extent possible, in order to minimize contacts between clients and employees, along with other guidelines.
Johnson said she is asking anyone who accompanies a client at the salon to wait outside while they get their hair done, unless the client is younger than 18 years old or requires additional assistance or oversight. After every customer, she said, employees sanitize their work stations, and all employees wear masks in the salon.
Like many other businesses that have reopened, the salon needed to purchase additional cleaning and sanitation supplies, which added some expenses for them. She said they also purchased some supplies to make them available for their customers if they don’t have access to them already while they are in the salon, like hand sanitizer and masks.
“It’s caused us a little bit of extra work, but it’s worth it just to be back in the community and working again,” Johnson said. “We’ve owned the salon for seven years, and it’s been rewarding just to have our clients be able to come back in, to see them, catch up on what’s been going on and talk about this pandemic with them. We’re excited to have our clients back in.”
Mike Harrison, pastor of First Christian Church of Pikeville, has been a customer at Studio 23 Hair Salon for at least two years, and he got his hair done at the salon on Wednesday. He said he was looking forward to getting a haircut and reuniting with friends at the salon, like Johnson.
“I feel like this social isolation has made us realize just how important it is to have social interaction,” Harrison said. “Even if you’re introverted, you realize you miss it.”
While reopening businesses like the salon is exciting for both customers and employees, Harrison said that he, like many others across the country, is curious about how reopening will impact the number of COVID-19 cases across the state.
“This reopening, it’s kind of exciting but also kind of scary because I’m waiting to see if there’s an uptick,” Harrison said, referring to an uptick in cases. “We’ve been fortunate because we don’t have the population density that some places have. We don’t have a lot of known cases in Pike County, and we’ve had very few deaths. I’m curious to see what happens with this.”
John Burke is the owner of Burke Barber Shop, located at 415 Ky. 610 in Virgie, and he reopened his shop on May 25. After working 39 years as a barber, Burke is now partially retired, and he runs the shop to help make ends meet for him and his wife.
Burke said he did not enjoy being away from his customers while his shop was closed, but he and his wife were able to spend more time together, which became a kind of silver lining for him in this pandemic.
“It wasn’t all that bad,” Harrison said. “The Lord’s blessed us. I missed my customers. I’ve known a lot of them for most of my life. They’re more than customers; they’re friends and neighbors, but we’ve done alright.”
Burke’s shop is open during the week from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Mondays-Saturdays, while being closed on Wednesdays and Sundays. After he reopened on Monday and Tuesday this week, Burke said he had a higher number of customers come in for appointments on those days than before his shop closed.
“I don’t have a high-volume business here, just doing half-days usually with about eight to 10 (customers) on average before this,” Burke said. “I was swamped Monday and Tuesday. I normally don’t work Wednesdays, but I’ll probably work some Wednesdays just to get caught up. I’d say a lot of customers appreciate that because their hair’s getting pretty long.”
Burke said he had to make some adjustments to his shop, like buying material to make hair cloths and purchase some additional cleaning supplies, in order to follow the health guidelines. However, Burke said he was just happy to return to work because he missed the social interaction between him and his customers, which is one of his favorite things about being a barber.
“It’s a small area and I’ve known most of these people all my life,” Burke said. “I missed my customers because they’re like my friends, and we loved getting to see each other again.”
For more information about Studio 23 Hair Salon, call, (606) 253-3083, or visit the salon at 107 Division Street in Pikeville.
For more information about Burke Barber Shop, call, (606) 213-1297, or visit the shop at 415 Ky. 610 in Virgie.
On June 1, 2020, more activities and businesses are allowed to reopen to the public in Kentucky, including move theaters, auctions, aquatic centers, auto/dirt track racing, fitness centers, Kentucky State Park Lodges, bowling alleys and fishing tournaments. For more information on Kentucky’s reopening schedule or the “Healthy At Work” initiative, visit, https://govstatus.egov.com/ky-healthy-at-work.