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Customers line up for cuts, color as Michigan hair salons reopen

Breana Noble Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

New You Salon had about 80 customers come through the parlor doors Monday, its first day open months after the Birmingham salon closed because of the coronavirus outbreak.

That's "high for a Monday," especially when the salon is operating with half of its 17 stylists out of caution and with most appointments for time-consuming coloring, salon owner Kathy Kelly said.

Arta Qelemeni washes Vickie Straitz's hair during her appointment at New You Salon in Birmingham on Monday.

"We have a lot of work to do," she said, noting most stylists are booked for three weeks.

Government restrictions were lifted to allow Michigan salons, barbershops and spas to reopen their doors with some modifications. Many have full days of appointments booked and have invested hundreds of dollars into measures to protect their employees and customers from the spread of the coronavirus with masks, thermometers and hand sanitizer to ultraviolet wands and ozone air-purifying machines.

"There's like a thousand of us that need a haircut," said Vickie Straitz, 58, of Royal Oak who was one of the first back at New You to freshen up her slanted bob haircut. "So I figured I could wait a few days on the color."

New You stylist Doug Clarke is booked with clients for the next four weeks after going without wages for weeks during which the 61-year-old filed for unemployment for the first time in his life.

“I will be working 14 days straight,” Clarke said. “I would much rather work 14 days straight than be at home doing another puzzle.”

The personal care service industry had been at center stage of disagreements on when to re-engage the economy as one Owosso barber who reopened his shop early was taken to court and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's comment for which she later apologized that people could just "Google" how to cut their hair came under scrutiny.

The governor had maintained that because of the close proximity to customers necessitated for barbers and stylists to do their jobs, the shops would be among the last to open.

Michigan was the last state in which Lady Jane's Haircuts for Men could reopen. The Birmingham-based corporate chain has more than 100 locations in 21 states with the majority, 29, in its home state.

Stylist Maegan Bates gives Ben Brady a haircut at Lady Jane's Haircuts for Men in Troy on Monday.

“It’s been a good return so far,” said Jesse Dhillon, vice president of the company. “Definitely very busy throughout the market. The phones are ringing off the hook."

Added Tim McCollum, Lady Jane's president: The closure "was not easy for anyone … all the way from our management team to our stylists, especially our stylists, it was not easy for them to be out of work for that long."

Catherine Wallace had rescheduled a hair color and cut appointment at New You five times before Monday because the reopening date kept being delayed:

"But you know, hey, if it means we are safe, I'm on it," the 62-year-old Rochester Hills business owner said.

But Dave Brown, owner of Dave's Haircutting & Styling Shop in Grosse Pointe, observed that his wife, a dental hygienist who also works closely with patients, already has returned to work.

"I think she got ticked off by the barber in someplace up north," Brown said of Whitmer. "She let the dental people go back because her husband's a dentist, and she took us out an extra three weeks. If you don't make a living for three months, it's hard. I'm old, I can handle it. The others aren't so well off."

The 76-year-old barber who has been in business for 51 years, however, is happy to be back.

"It feels good, I guess," he said. "We're getting jammed. I think there are three million people wanting to get in this week."

Brown always has done haircuts by appointment, but his two other employees who traditionally have accepted walk-ins also only are cutting hair by appointment because of a nine-person limit for the store.

Brown estimates he's spent a few thousand dollars investing in COVID-19 preventative measures. The shop has been sanitized, and the seats spread 6 feet apart are disinfected after each customer. Plastic capes are changed out with each patron. Customers and employees get their temperatures checked and must wear masks.

"It's been a pain," he said. "It's been very expensive, but we're getting there."

Sir John's Barbershop & Salon in east Detroit has taken similar measures for its employees and clients. Customers began calling two weeks ago to save an appointment slot, owner John Jean said. The shop doesn't have an opening until next week unless there is a cancellation.

The store is asking clients to sit in their vehicles until their appointment to limit person-to-person interactions — a change for the shop that encourages community.

"The guys can come in and socialize and hang out," Jean said, but because of COVID-19, "it's better this way until all of this stuff blows over."

Jean still had to pay rent for his business, but he worked out a payment plan with his landlord while he was at a loss of wages. He also is going through some programs to see about getting funding assistance.

"The bills don't stop coming," he said. "It means a lot just getting back to work and being able to service my customers and getting back to what I love to do."

Mayor Mike Duggan on Monday reminded businesses in the city that they can have their employees tested for COVID-19 for free every two weeks.

"Everybody in this city," he said during a news conference, "should be asking your barber, your hairstylist, your manicurist, ‘Do you have your sticker, can you show me you care about your health enough that you got tested?’"

Cortney Wilson, co-owner of Anthem Hair & Health in Detroit's Rivertown, said the process she and her husband went through was easy and painless. They both and their other stylists tested negative this weekend.

"I wanted to let my clients know they were entering a safe environment so that when they leave our environment at Anthem that they would not be infecting their environment in the city," Wilson said.

The city in conjunction with the DTE Energy Co. also are providing small businesses with kits of personal protective equipment.

“We’re well-stocked," said Kimberly Harry, proprietor of Harry's Barbershop in east Detroit, "we’re well-equipped, and we are back in business, and we are doing it the right way and making sure our clients and our customers are safe.”

bnoble@detroitnews.com

khall@detroitnews.com