Coronavirus

‘It’s Heartbreak For My Community:’ Atlanta Salon Owner On Why She’s Waiting To Reopen

Lauren Reyes is a salon owner and hairstylist in Atlanta, specializing in hair coloring, cutting, and styling. This photo was taken before Reyes closed her salon due to coronavirus precautions.
Lauren Reyes is a salon owner and hairstylist in Atlanta, specializing in hair coloring, cutting, and styling. This photo was taken before Reyes closed her salon due to coronavirus precautions.
Credit Photo courtesy of Lauren Reyes
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Before coronavirus, hairstylist and salon owner Lauren Reyes was fully booked three months in advance and was busy to the point where she wasn’t accepting new clients.

Lauren Reyes Salon inside of Ansley Mall in Atlanta is one of the many establishments that had to close their doors for weeks due to coronavirus precautions. But despite getting the green light from Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Monday to reopen her business on Friday, Reyes has decided to wait.

“It truly feels like the governor is saying that my life, my family’s life does not matter,” she said.

She tentatively plans to reopen on May 1, but that date could be pushed back. For her, this is a matter of choosing her and her clients’ health over returning to work.

I just feel like that is the saddest decision that anyone should have to make. We shouldn’t have to make that choice.

– Lauren Reyes, hair salon owner in Atlanta

To keep her bills paid, she’s been relying on her savings, which she thinks will be depleted after May if she continues to depend on it.

Reyes has applied for small business loans that were offered through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and unemployment benefits. She said she’s been denied for both.

“It seems to me like they gave all of the funding to the big, small businesses,” she said. “So, I don’t think that the funds went where they were supposed to go in the first place.”

Before she can open her salon back up, she has to find a way to stock up on items under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19.” Infrared thermometers, masks, and gloves are on the list.

Reyes said she’s been searching websites to find supplies since Monday, and she still can’t find the necessary items. She can’t even find Barbicide, which is a disinfectant commonly used in salons to sanitize hair tools.

“They want us to have masks available for our clients. Well, we don’t have masks. The hospitals hardly have enough PPE [personal protective equipment],” she said. “We lose the benefit of being ordered to be closed without having … the proper tools to reopen.”

The sudden decision Kemp announced on Monday to let salons reopen has added an extra helping of stress to her plate because not all of her clients are on board with waiting.

“I even had a client say that if I got arrested for working outside of the shelter-in-place, that she would pay for my bond,” she said. “And it’s just like, you’re willing to risk my liberty essentially just for me to do your hair.”

Then, there are those who have no plans to come back to her salon anytime soon.

“Trying to manage those two different parties is really difficult … I’m in the business of serving clients,” she said. “And when you’ve got such polarizing opinions, and we’re in the service industry, it’s really daunting.”

Because upsetting a client could mean they won’t return.

She worked as a hairdresser during the recession in 2008 and remembers the financial toll it took on salons, with businesses being permanently closed and stylists making less money.

She said it “terrifies” her that it could happen again.

“We’re a luxury service. We are a hair salon. Those are the first things that get cut when people lose confidence,” she said.

Reyes said she doesn’t just feel “contempt” for the current situation. She said she is feeling “heartbreak” for her community.

“I’m very passionate about hairdressers because they’re the most hard-working,” she said. “It’s one of the hardest jobs. You are someone’s therapist. You’re someone’s friend. It’s like family.”

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