LOVELAND, Colo. — Last Tuesday, during the first few days that this state loosened restrictions on businesses that were temporarily closed because of the novel coronavirus, Blush Beauty Bar reopened for appointments. It was the first time that customers had been allowed inside the hair salon in 48 days, and the stylists were booked solid. (They remain so through the end of the month.)
The owner, Mindy Bodley, 40, took care with the safety precautions she put in place for her customers and her staff of three. She has bills and rent to pay. “This month will be a push. We have to cover May and June,” she said. “I am relieved to be back working.”
Throughout Colorado and other states that have allowed certain businesses to reopen, store owners must navigate new government guidelines designed to balance a restart of the economy with the possibility of worsening the pandemic — without scaring away customers. It remains to be seen how consumers will react; a late-April survey by Healthier Colorado and the Colorado Health Foundation found that 64 percent of Coloradans support a policy of staying home to slow the spread of the coronavirus, even if that means businesses will remain closed.
In the final minutes before the salon reopened, Diamond Herrera, 22, a stylist, and Desi Orr, 19, a receptionist, tested out the no-touch forehead thermometers. Ms. Bodley reminded them of their new operating procedures. (Everyone wears a mask, and stylists must don the hot pink rubber gloves they previously used for messy jobs like dyeing.) The interior had been rearranged: the seating area eliminated, the counter shifted to the side to allow customers to stand six feet away.
At 10 a.m., Ms. Orr stepped outside to meet the first customer, Amy Eldridge, 45, who had called from her car to announce her arrival. Ms. Orr confirmed that Ms. Eldridge didn’t have a fever, and that she had brought a face mask.
“Have you been sick in the last 14 days?” Ms. Orr asked. “Have you been around anyone who has been sick in the last 14 days? Do you have any flulike symptoms?”
After replying no to all three, Ms. Eldridge was allowed inside. (The first glitch presented itself when Ms. Orr realized the door had locked behind her. It was part of the new protocol: No walk-in customers are allowed, so the door stays locked.)
Once inside, Ms. Eldridge was asked to wash her hands, before sitting down in the black leather salon chair, placing her purse and keys into a plastic box beside her.
Finally, it came to the moment of familiarity. “So how are things?” Ms. Bodley asked as she prepared to cut Ms. Eldridge’s hair.
“They’re good!” Ms. Eldridge replied.
She had made her appointment seven months earlier, and now her strawberry blond hair reached to the middle of her back. “I only get my hair cut twice a year,” Ms. Eldridge said. “I get so excited about my appointments.”
Ms. Eldridge has known Ms. Bodley for more than a decade, which removed any fears about coming.
“I have total trust in Mindy, and not just for my hair,” she said. “I know she always has her customer’s safety in mind. She wouldn’t do anything to compromise her customers or her business.”
Soon after, Macall McFall, 26, arrived to get her long brown hair colored before her graduation from an occupational therapy program next week.
“We’re having a virtual graduation,” Ms. McFall said, with a note of disappointment.
The Blush Beauty Bar customer experience, which can cost $150 or more, is all about pampering. But now there are no more glamour shots with special lighting; no more free beverages; no more chitchat as customers wait for hair dye to set. Then there are adjustments to the hair care itself.
“I feel like I can’t see,” Ms. Bodley said as her mask rode up while cutting Ms. Eldridge’s hair. “It’s sort of important to my job.”
Ms. Herrera was frustrated by her gloves.
“I’m hoping it’s dry,” she said of Ms. McFall’s hair, which she was blasting with a dryer. “I can’t feel.”
“I’m just happy to be here,” Ms. McFall said as she checked the new hue in the mirror. “I love it! It looks so good!”
The customers and clients settled into a gentle rhythm. They shared their quarantine stories and updated one another on Netflix shows they had binge-watched at home: “Waco,” “Dance Moms” and “Tiger King,” of course. (There was broad consensus in the salon that Carole Baskin must have killed her previous husband.)
The salon is just off the city’s main drag; outside, few other businesses were open. “It’s a ghost town,” Ms. Bodley said. “I live on this street, and I’ve never had so much parking.”
On March 18, when she learned the state was shutting down nonessential businesses, Ms. Bodley recalled squeezing in her best friend for one last appointment, closing up and locking the door, taking the salon’s last three rolls of toilet paper home with her.
Ms. Bodley’s husband orders beer for a liquor store, which was deemed an essential industry in Colorado, so he continued to work. The dog supply store she owns next to the salon was able to shift to online sales. And she did receive a $2,000 Economic Injury Disaster Loan. While the future as uncertain, Ms. Bodley is banking on hair salons staying “recession-proof.”
When her appointment was over, Ms. McFall stretched her arm as far as she could to hand Ms. Herrera her credit card at a proper distance. Ms. Herrera then disinfected the chair, the counter, the hand mirror and the plastic bin that had held Ms. McFall’s personal items. Previously, it would have seemed odd, almost insulting, to take such measures. Not anymore.
“This could be our new normal,” Ms. Herrera said.
This article was produced in collaboration with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent nonprofit news service of the Kaiser Family Foundation. The author is a reporter for Kaiser Health News.