After a decade in the industry, hairstylist Sharra Spann began building out her dream salon in Pinecrest last year. She spent months getting the proper permits, picking out the perfect tufted leather chairs for the waiting area, and finding just the right team to join her.
Finally, in early March, Spann opened the doors of A Little Off the Top Hair Studio in a well-trafficked shopping plaza near Dadeland Mall.
Then coronavirus hit.
"Two weeks after opening, I had to close my doors because of COVID-19," says Spann, who was forced to temporarily shutter her non-essential business after a March 19 emergency order in Miami-Dade.
After two long months in limbo, Spann can finally reopen her hair salon today, albeit with many new restrictions. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez gave the OK for personal-grooming businesses to resume operations with reduced capacity, social-distancing measures, mask requirements, and strict cleaning and hygiene protocols.
Salons across the county can have no more than 10 people or 25 percent of their capacity inside at any time, whichever is smaller. Employees and customers must both wear facemasks. And walk-in visits are a thing of the past: Anyone looking for a haircut, wax, or manicure must make an appointment ahead of time.
Heeding those rules, Spann has staggered shifts for her stylists, cleared the waiting area, and ordered plenty of hand sanitizer from Amazon. But she doesn't want her clients to completely lose the salon experience.
"Before, we were providing mimosas and wine and coffee and things like that. We'll still be providing things like that, of course, but now it will just be a little different — in disposable cups," she says. "Who doesn't need a mimosa nowadays?"
Providing an upscale experience is central to the success of The Spot Barbershop, says chief operations officer Mike Risco. After opening in 2001 in Little Havana, the business has grown to 14 locations across Miami-Dade and Broward. Each customer receives a complimentary drink with the purchase of a service.
"Part of the charm is our bar, where people hang out and talk when they wait for their haircuts. That's not going to be like that — at least not for now," Risco says. Typically, "it's more of an experience. Now, it feels like it's more of a service: get in and get out."
To stay under capacity, The Spot has extended its hours from 8 a.m. to midnight to accommodate two shifts for its barbers. Employees and clients will have their temperature taken at the door as a precaution. The barbers have been given branded facemasks and face shields that say "God Is Good," The Spot's longtime slogan.
"A lot of people would say, why are you wearing a mask if God is so good? It's the opposite — we're trying to spread positivity through these times," Risco says.
Brand consistency has also been top-of-mind for Rita Pinto, the founder of Vanity Projects, a high-end nail studio in Miami's Design District. Since March, she has worked to secure custom facemasks and nail files for the business and took the opportunity to purchase dozens of new bottles of Tom Ford and Yves Saint Laurent nail polish.
"I just wanted everything to be fresh-fresh," she says.
When Vanity Projects reopens Wednesday, Pinto will have rearranged the workstations to make sure clients are seated at least six feet apart. Although it's not required, her nail artists will don face shields.
"It's like getting your nails done by a stormtrooper," Pinto jokes.
While she says Vanity Projects has always stressed cleanliness, those measures will now go into overdrive.
"I'm talking about militant cleaning efforts," Pinto says. "If [clients] come there and it looks like we didn't care or didn't give an effort — that's it. We have one opportunity to show people we're taking this really seriously."
Sanitation as a selling point is something Detlev Gessner has been thinking about as he prepares to reopen his eponymous hair salon in Coconut Grove on Wednesday.
"I like luxury standards; this is what our salon sort of prides itself on," Gessner says. "Now, above-and-beyond sanitization is our 'luxury standards.'"
Last week, clients of Detlev, an Aveda lifestyle salon, received an email breaking down the business' new rules. Guests are asked to limit their belongings to a cell phone and credit card and to wait outside of the salon until their stylist is ready. Once inside, they'll be asked to wash their hands before their service. When it's time to leave, there won't be a conversation about booking a future appointment — that will be done over the phone to limit the amount of time each client is inside the building.
Unlike at many salons, Gessner provides health insurance for his employees, which he continued to pay for during the two-month business shutdown. Starting Wednesday, Gessner will extend the salon's hours until 9 p.m. and move the stylists to a new schedule so everyone can have time to work.
"Everybody wants to see their guests. It's just going to look a little bit different," he says.
Lelene Valentin, owner of Lelene's Beauty Bar near Cutler Bay, has implemented a similar schedule change, moving from five days a week to seven.
"We'll open Sundays and Mondays so I can make sure everyone gets a paycheck," she says.
Lelene's specializes in silk press, a technique that straightens curly or textured hair without a relaxer. That means Valentin typically sees her clients every two weeks, and often without appointments.
"A lot of people would like to walk in, so I haven't figured out how I'm gonna do that yet," she says.
Nevertheless, she's opening today to a full schedule. "We're booked up the whole week," Valentin says.
Not everyone in the industry is comfortable going back to work just yet. Kristi, a Miami stylist who has been cutting hair for 15 years, says she's hesitant to return to the salon where she rented a booth until mid-March. Her husband has pre-existing health conditions and is considered at high risk if he were to contract COVID-19.
"It sucks because that's our income, and every day I'm seeing income disappear, but you know I'm gonna obviously put my health first," she says.
Moving forward, Kristi is considering renting an individual suite or purchasing a mobile unit so she can have complete control over cleaning protocols and client procedures. At her current workplace, she doesn't know her coworkers well and worries they won't take the county regulations as seriously as she does.
"It's basically like we run our own business," she says. "That model — it can just be chaos." (Kristi asked New Times to use a pseudonym because she has a pending license for her planned solo business.)
Kristi says she knows how risky her line of work can be. In the past, she remembers getting the flu after a sick client's sneeze made its way into her eye. She feels uneasy returning behind the salon chair when the coronavirus is still spreading.
"I find it interesting that I still can't get ahold of the IRS, which they answer phones in an office, but I'm going back to work first. We're all sort of collectively laughing in the industry," she says. "People are saying how much they miss us, but meanwhile they're safe in their homes."
While Kristi plans to see existing clients starting next week, she has a long list of requirements for those coming to her for a haircut, including a no-cell-phone policy. So far, the reaction has been a mixed bag.
"I'm gonna be straight-up: My Republicans want me to cut their hair now. They don't care. And my understanding Democrats are like: Do it when you feel comfortable," Kristi says. "Where they stand is blatantly obvious with their response."
Sandra Payne, the owner of South Beach Body Waxing, says she has had to rethink some of the business' services in order to keep her employees safe. For starters, she won't be offering upper lip waxes or any services that would require estheticians to work on a client who isn't wearing a mask.
"At this time, I don't want to put anyone in a predicament," she says. "Safety first."
To prepare to reopen Wednesday, Payne has installed Plexiglas dividers inside the business and purchased masks for customers. Only two employees will work at a time.
"We'll take all the precautions necessary to contribute to society, help our clients, and create jobs for our staff, with caution and safety, of course," Payne says. "We don't want to have to be on lockdown again."
Overall, she's excited to return to the Washington Avenue storefront she has rented for the past 22 years.
"We are an amazing city full of energy and vibrancy, and we're very resilient, I think," she says.
Plus, Payne is ready to get herself an honest-to-god manicure.
"My nails are like, ahhhh," she jokes. "There's some of us that just can't do our own nails."
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