Blush Beauty Bar hair salon, in Loveland, Colorado, had been closed 48 days, a consequence of stay-at-home orders to stem the tide of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But last Tuesday, the shop in this city of nearly 80,000, about 50 miles north of Denver, was finally reopening after the orders had been partially lifted on May 1.
It was booked solid its first day — and for each day the rest of the month. After seven weeks of isolation, it seems people desperately want to get their hair cut.
Still, as Colorado attempts a soft reopening, the three-person staff has had to adjust to a new way of doing business. Even before the salon opened its doors Tuesday, staffers had to rearrange its interior, eliminating the seating in the waiting area, and shifting the front counter to the side, allowing one customer at a time to wait 6 feet away in a spot marked with a blue taped X.
In the final minute before the salon reopened, stylist Diamond Herrera, 22, and receptionist Desi Orr, 19, tested out new no-touch forehead thermometers as owner Mindy Bodley, 40, reminded them of the new procedures.
As child care facilities, tattoo parlors and business offices reopen here, they must navigate new government guidelines designed to balance a restart of the economy against the possibility of reigniting the pandemic, all without scaring away customers. Indeed, 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.
At 10 a.m., Orr stepped outside to meet their first customer, Amy Eldridge, 45, who had called from her car to announce her arrival. Orr used the new thermometer to confirm Eldridge didn’t have a fever and then checked whether she had brought a face mask. Customers can also purchase a cloth one for $10 when they arrive.
“Have you been sick in the last 14 days?” Orr asked her. “Have you been around anyone who has been sick in the last 14 days? Do you have any flu-like symptoms?”
Replying no to all three, Eldridge was allowed inside. But the first glitch emerged when 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, 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.
“So how are things?” Bodley asked her as she prepared to cut Eldridge’s hair.
“They’re good!” Eldridge replied.
And at least for the moment, it all felt familiar. She had made the appointment seven months earlier and now her strawberry-blonde hair had reached down to the middle of her back. Eldridge couldn’t have known last fall that the salon would close down for seven weeks due to a never-before-seen virus that would shut down the nation’s economy and keep most people sheltered at home and desperate for a haircut.
“I’ve worked from home for 15 years, so for me, this hasn’t been a big change. And I only get my hair cut twice a year,” Eldridge said. “But at the same time, I get so excited about my appointments.”
Eldridge has known Bodley for more than a decade, which removed any fears of coming to the salon.
“I have total trust in Mindy, and not just for my hair,” she said, as Bodley went to mix some hair dye for her. “I know she always has her customers’ 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,” McFall said, with a note of disappointment.
The Blush experience, where a visit can cost $150 or more, is still the same pampering extravagance it has always been, with a few minor tweaks. Both the customers and the stylists must wear masks the entire time, and Bodley and Herrera work in hot-pink rubber gloves they previously used only for messy jobs like dyeing.
They no longer offer beverages to customers and won’t sit next to them to chat as they wait for the dye to set. The salon is no longer taking glamour photos of clients sporting their new looks amid special lighting and backdrops. And they can fit in fewer appointments per day given the new safety steps.
It all was an adjustment for both the stylist and customer.
“I feel like I can’t see,” Bodley said at one point as the mask rode up while working on Eldridge’s hair. “It’s sort of important to my job.”
The COVID pandemic colored all aspects of the experience including the friendly banter at the salon. Instead of complimenting a customer’s blouse or shoes, Herrera admired McFall’s blue-patterned face mask. “It’s so cute!”
The women shared their quarantine stories and updated one another on Netflix shows they had binge-watched at home: from “Waco” to “Dance Moms” and, of course, “Tiger King.” There was a broad consensus that Carole Baskin had killed her previous husband.
Blush has been open for four years at its 4th Street location, just off the city’s main drag. Bodley has a loyal customer base as evidenced by the “Best Salon in Loveland” certificates, awarded by readers of the local newspaper, hanging on the wall. Still, once the virus appeared in the U.S. and made its way to Colorado, business had started to slow.
“Our numbers have been down this year,” Bodley said. “You never know what people will be scared of, but the beauty industry, hair, is usually a recession-proof business.”
At first, she didn’t know what to make of the slowdown, even as many of her friends were starting to stockpile toilet paper, hand sanitizer and flour and preparing for a lockdown.
“I prepared for Y2K,” Bodley recalled thinking. “I am not preparing for this.”
But by March, customers were canceling appointments. Phone alerts would buzz in the middle of haircuts, informing customers their child’s school was closing or some other routine aspect of their family’s life was shutting down.
Then on March 18, Bodley learned the state was shutting down nonessential businesses. She finished with the client she had in her salon at the time, squeezed in her best friend for one last appointment, and then closed up shop. She locked the door and took the salon’s last three rolls of toilet paper home with her.
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 Bodley owns next to the salon was able to shift to online sales. And she did receive a $2,000 Economic Injury Disaster Loan. But she still has rent and bills to pay.
“I am relieved to be back working,” she admitted. “This month will be a push. We have to cover May and June.”
Besides the restaurants and coffee shops that shifted to takeout services to stay open during the closure, most of the other retail businesses remained closed even though the state was slowly reopening.
“It’s a ghost town,” Bodley said. “I live on this street and I’ve never had so much parking.”
Still, the first day back was all smiles, even if they were hidden behind face masks; a hint that life could return to some semblance of pre-pandemic patterns, even if so much of the future remains clouded.
“I’m ready for Marshalls to open,” Bodley said. “I miss the people, but I didn’t really miss working. I thought, ‘How are we surviving?’ It’s because nothing is open for me to spend money on!”
“Our checkbook has seen some serious healing,” she said.
As she trimmed inches off Eldridge’s hair, Bodley admitted that “cutting hair in gloves is not cool. We already know I can’t see.”
Herrera had similar challenges as she dried McFall’s hair.
“I’m hoping it’s dry,” she said. “I can’t feel.”
But those hurdles were a small price to pay.
“I’m just happy to be here,” McFall said as she checked the new hue of her long hair in the mirror. “I love it! It looks so good!”
She moved to the counter to pay her bill, stretching her arm as far she could to hand Herrera her credit card to try to maintain the proper distance.
When McFall left, Herrera sprayed disinfectant on the chair, the counter and the plastic bin that had held her personal items. She wiped down the hand mirror her client had held. In other times, it would seem odd, almost insulting, to take such measures.
But the pandemic has altered nearly every part of normal life, even something as routine as a haircut, and nobody knows for how long.
“This could be our new normal,” Herrera said.
This story was produced by Kaiser Health News. KHN is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.