African-American Salons and Barbershops Are Told Its Time to Open Up. Many Are Saving a Seat for Their Customers Instead.

As black business owners weight the risks and rewards, their reputations lie in the balance.

Few industries have felt the effects of COVID-19 as acutely the salon, nail and barbershop industry. Currently, there are 147,406 barbershops, 50,000 nail salons, and a staggering 289,277 beauty salons in the U.S. That doesn’t include shops that operate without a license. And, right now, each of those shops, and the employees who work in them, are still on hold as social distancing measures remain in effect in most states.

But not for long.

One by one, government leaders are caving from the unrelenting pressure to ease restrictions and get people back to work. For some reason, officials have targeted high-touch businesses such as salons, barbershops, tattoo parlors, and spas as the canaries that must fly into the coal mine to see if all is well.

Is all well? 

Depending on where you live, cases of COVID-19 may be slowing, but as experts have pointed out, there hasn’t been enough testing to be sure. Reopening is a test, and it’s one African-American salons and barbershops can’t afford to fail.

Before you get back to business as usual, here are some things to consider:

How will you protect yourself, your staff, and your customers?

Grooming requires touch, and there’s no way around it. It’s literally impossible to keep 6 feet away from a customer in a hair or nail salon or barbershop. That means you need personal protective equipment (PPE) and plenty of it. According to the reopening guidelines:

Salon/shop employees will be required to wear masks at all times. Salons may want to consider providing masks to clients. Clients should wear face masks to the extent possible while receiving services. Salons/shops should also make use of face shields, gloves, disposable or re-washable capes, smocks, neck strips, etc.”

How exactly will African-American salon and barbershop owners source this PPE when major hospitals have issues acquiring them? And what will happen if they are not in use?

Owners will also be asked to take customer temperatures, stagger client appointments, and limit the number of people in their establishments. While most of us have been trained in basic safety and hygiene, this is above and beyond. We are not equipped to run our salons and barbershops like hospitals. Even if we were, our customers may not be prepared to risk their lives for a haircut or a shave. It is also unclear how most of us can pay rent, pay for PPE, and recover from weeks without income if no one show up or we stagger appointments. 

What impact could an outbreak have on your long-term reputation?

If African-American salon and barbershop owners do welcome guests back and a second wave of the virus occurs, they will be ground zero for an outbreak. The impact of just one COVID-19 case on a shop’s reputation would be devastating and could shutter that business for good. 

Few people who have built a business brick by brick are comfortable not paying rent or, worse, not enabling their employees to earn a living. On the flip side, paying rent or employees will be a non-issue when their businesses fail because they opened too soon. So, the ultimate question is…

Is it worth it?

Every owner will have to answer this question for him or herself. Only you can weigh the risks against your financial status and the needs of your customers and employees. One thing is clear. African-American business owners do not have to be sacrificial lambs to a virus no one understands—and one we are more susceptible to. Our customers love us. We are part of their lives, and we are the nerve-center of African-American culture. Right now, waiting a little longer and saving a seat for our customers might save a life—even if we never know whose life we’ve saved. Your customers will understand, and they will still be there when you open up at a safer time.

If you know you want to distance for a little longer until you’re sure reopening is the right thing to do, be sure you are communicating that to your customers. Sharing our Saving a Seat video with them may help you do it. 

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