Salons, Massage Therapists Reopen as NC Enters Phase 2

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MINT HILL, NC – On March 23, Governor Cooper put in place an executive order that mandated the closure of businesses unable to practice social distancing.  Among the businesses closed were hair and nail salons, barbershops, and massage therapists.

The personal care industry is by no means the only one that has been affected by COVID-19, but its indefinite shutdown did put owners and employees in a unique situation.  Many other affected businesses were able to alter their services and remain open in some capacity during the Stay at Home Order.  Restaurants and retail stores began offering takeout and curbside service, gym owners began offering classes online, but there’s simply no way to offer a takeout haircut or a virtual massage.

For some business owners, the shutdown pressed pause on what started out as a promising year.  “We were having a really great year, really successful,” says Stephen Smith, owner of Mint Hill Barbershop.  “Then all of a sudden – zero.”  For others, the closure came on the heels of other difficulties.  “It’s been a bit of a struggle, especially after last year when we were closed for six weeks when the building flooded,” says Ashley Dwyer, owner and massage therapist at Fire & Ice Therapeutic Massage.  

Ashley Dwyer 

For people who have made their living as barbers and massage therapists, the impact of the closure went beyond finances.  “You’ve gotta have a purpose,” begins Smith, attempting to explain the impact of the last two months on himself and his staff.  “All of a sudden that just gets taken away from you.”  “It was very stressful,” agrees Massage Sanctuary owner Lisa Lane.  “What was going to change when we got back?  Are things ever going to be the way they were?”

In fact, a lot has changed now that Lane is back at work.  Clients have to fill out additional paperwork; Lane wears a mask while she works.  Lane took pride in her superior sanitation efforts before COVID-19, but now she finds herself double and triple-checking between clients, making sure it’s all done correctly.  “You almost have to pretend like people have it and clean that way,” says Lane, “because the next client has to be safe, and I have to be safe.”

Massage Sanctuary

“I’ve always been picky,” says Dwyer.  “We’ve always changed and washed sheets in bleach, we’ve always had plastic on tables.”  However, Dwyer found the guidance given from the state regarding reopening safely to be vague and, at times, conflicting.  Some suggestions – like having full PPE on hand or sending therapists home to take showers and brush their teeth between clients – were both extreme and impossible to implement.  Ultimately, Dwyer implemented the measures she thought were best and most effective, including replacing cloth furniture with materials that can be more easily wiped down, installing HEPA filters in every room, having therapists wear masks and gloves, and practicing extra sanitizing measures between clients.

Ashley Dwyer

Some extra paperwork and a few extra minutes cleaning may not seem like a big deal; in fact, these changes may not even be noticeable to clients. For therapists, however, it adds up to less time to take clients.  Lane estimates that a cleaning routine that used to take her fifteen minutes now takes her thirty.  “I think clients are not going to have much to do on their end,” says Lane.  “They might have a five-minute inconvenience.  But I’m realizing now that maybe thirty minutes between clients is no longer the norm.  It’s going to have to be forty-five minutes, maybe an hour.”

At Mint Hill Barbershop, the stations are spaced out to maintain six feet between customers.  Like Lane and Dwyer, Smith and his fellow barbers are masked, and they complete a thorough disinfecting routine between clients.  One unfortunate side effect of this process, according to Smith, has been a lot more waste.  With no way to properly disinfect a standard cloth drape between clients, they’re forced to use disposable paper drapes.

For some, like Smith, reopening has brought a new wave of business.  “It’s been crazy,” says Smith, thinking back on the morning of May 23.  “It was like Black Friday!  The first customer got here Saturday at 4:58 am.  There were twenty-five or thirty people in line getting tickets before 7:00.  We had a three-hour wait!” 

Business remains steady at Mint Hill Barbershop

Now that he’s been open about a week, the wait has leveled off to about thirty minutes.  Smith and his staff have been working nonstop from 7:00 am to 5:30 pm daily.  Normally walk-in only, Smith has been offering appointments on Mondays – a day they’re usually closed – and plans to continue for the month of June.  For Smith, it’s not only a way to handle increased demand and put money back in his barbers’ pockets but also a better option for customers who are high risk.

Others have experienced a slower return.  “We’ve had a lot of people calling and asking if we have availability and then not scheduling,” says Dwyer.  Ultimately, she finds their hesitation understandable.  “I think we still have a lot of people who are scared,” she continues, “but I think people will realize that maybe it’s not as big of a risk having somebody touch them.  We’re close contact, but we’re one-on-one, and I feel like our sanitation standards are high enough that I don’t feel like we’re putting anybody at risk.” 

Ultimately, as people like Dwyer, Lane, and Smith return to work, they are grateful for a community like Mint Hill that supports them.  “The industry took a hard hit over the past couple of months,” says Smith.  “We appreciate them, they supported us.”  As we move into a new normal, Lane urges patience.  “Be patient with your therapist.  They’re going to give you the same care that you’re used to, and they want to make a smooth transition, but that’s going to take some time.  Expect a few bumps in the road.”

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Mary Beth Foster
Mary Beth Foster works part time as an essay specialist at Charlotte Latin School and full time as a mom to her eight-year-old daughter Hannah and her six-year-old son Henry. Prior to having children, she worked as a high school English teacher for nine years. Most recently, she chaired the English department at Queen's Grant High School. She and her husband have lived in Mint Hill with their children and their cats since 2011. Email: