California hairdressers’ battle with the COVID-19 Lockdowns
Disclaimer: Names have been changed for the safety and privacy of the individuals interviewed for this article.
Sharon and Stacy are a mother and daughter-in-law duo. They’re both hairdressers that work at the same salon in a small mountain town located in Northern California — about an hour and a half north-east of Sacramento, Calif.
Like many hairdressers and employees that work as independent contractors in the region, Sharon and Stacey were hit hard by the harsh realities of the pandemic. As a result of multiple lockdowns, the U.S. unemployment rate has almost doubled and many small businesses that have faced financial difficulty since last March were forced to shut down. Yet, the duo has somehow managed to overcome the hardships that they faced while continuing to do what they love: make their clients feel beautiful.
This is the story of how they were able to do so.
When the first lockdown was announced in March of 2020, Sharon and Stacy’s salon owner set up a Zoom meeting to talk with them and others working in the salon. They were all asked to continue to pay their normal booth rent fees because, at the time, the owner still had to pay building rent for the salon. On top of this, most hairdressers are considered independent contractors, which meant they couldn’t file for unemployment. After some time, they no longer had to pay rent because the landlord pushed building rent to the end of the year. And after two months, the government decided to allow hairdressers to file for unemployment.
Filing for unemployment hit Sharon hard. Prior to this, she hadn’t been too bummed about the lockdowns. She was busy getting chores done around the house, painting, gardening and so on. However, after two months of no work, reality began to set in.
“I was sitting there in my pajamas at 11 a.m., filing for unemployment, and my hair wasn’t done,” Sharon said. “I felt like a loser.”
Both Sharon and Stacy had to resort to a couple of alternative ways to help bring in income during the lockdowns. Sharon was able to do some salon work—although illegally—from her garage. In her little detached garage, she managed to set up a hole-in the wall type salon with just a small mirror and chair. She’d work with the garage door open, car parked outside, and surrounded by various yard tools and outdoor equipment. Sharon would do cuts and sometimes help dye clients roots. As a result of COVID-19 guidelines, the customer would have to go home following their appointment and rinse the dye out on their own. Stacy didn’t want to risk permanently losing her license, but she did make root-dye kits for some clients so that they could do it without a hairdresser’s assistance. Both Sharon and Stacey said they knew about many hairdressers who did end up losing their license trying to provide for their families.
The duo were filled with hope when the lockdowns were lifted. In their small town, things relaxed much quicker than in most of California. Sharon and Stacy were extremely lucky to be back in the salon, and people were coming from everywhere just to get their hair done. They saw their clientele nearly double, with many customers coming from places that were still shut down: Sacramento, Reno and San Francisco. Sharon even noted that she saw some clients who had come from Los Angeles, which is eight hours away from their town. People just wanted to get their hair done.
In January of 2021, Gov. Gavin Newsom, mandated another set of lockdowns amidst rising COVID-19 cases. The salon owner couldn’t afford this next wave, as it would cause her business to permanently close and cost her every investment she had. Sharon, Stacy and other hairdressers in the salon were willing to keep working, safely. They sent out a message to their clients saying that they’d keep their salon open as a speak-easy business, but they could cancel their appointments free of charge if they were uncomfortable with braking lockdown rules.
There was one client whose husband was a democratic politician in California. She and her husband had gone to Newsom’s birthday party back in October that he had gotten in trouble for. She kept her appointment, which was frustrating for salon workers to see when they had to risk their licenses, and the politicians who put them at risk didn’t even seem to care much. Sharon noted that the client displayed an elitist attitude. However, she noted that some people who were politically active did cancel their appointments, and was happy to see that not everyone was so hypocritical.
Stacy noted that since reopening it’s been hard to deal with some people’s attitudes concerning masks. She has a medical condition which doctors have instructed her to not wear a mask for, but she still does when she’s working in order to make clients feel more comfortable.
“Some people don’t see where others are coming from, and that gets frustrating,” Stacey said.
However, she’s been incredibly encouraged by the amount of people who have been supportive regardless of their views on COVID-19. Many people see hair as essential, and Stacy said she feels super important in being able to bless others by accentuating and complimenting their God-given beauty.
Sharon was also frustrated to see so many people who did not understand where they’re coming from, but was encouraged to see that many were kind and loving regardless of differences in opinion.
“We feel more appreciated than ever,” Sharon said. “I think people didn’t realize how important hair had been to them until now.”
However, despite this appreciation, the two hairdressers expressed frustration towards the insensitivity that some people displayed towards the hardships that many other hairdressers and independent contractors in similar positions have had to overcome.
Both Stacy and Sharon said they had an easier experience compared to most other hairdressers, many of whom had more to lose on the line. The owner of the salon in which they work could have lost their entire business. One of their co-workers was a single mom with small children and the sole-provider for her household. Other hairdressers, nail artists, makeup artists, aestheticians and others in the beauty industry had to decide whether they were willing to risk their licenses in an effort to provide for their families. As a result, many ended up permanently losing their licences and sources of income.
While the duo were able to make it work, it is the countless similar stories that they want their clients to continue remembering as the effects of the pandemic continue to subside.