Celebrity hairstylists and business partners Riawna Capri and Nikki Lee were prepped and ready when California entered Phase 3 of reopening the state's economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Equipped with automatic sanitizer stations and health-screening protocols, they started inviting customers back to their West Hollywood hair salon, Nine Zero One, on June 8 following a three-month shutdown.
Then, just one month after reopening, California announced an abrupt second shutdown of indoor services, including hair salons, to curb the recent spike in infections (the state is currently reporting 473,500 confirmed COVID-19 cases — the highest in the nation — and more than 8,000 related deaths, according to the L.A. Times). Here, Capri and Lee share how they're navigating the unpredictable closures, providing for their staff, and what this means for the salon industry at large.
The following interview was told to Megan Decker and edited for length and clarity.
NL: "The process of securing everything we needed to reopen our salon was madness. We had official health and safety orders, given to us by the State Board of California, which we had to comply with in order to start seeing clients again. For equipment, we'd divide and concur: making multiple Target trips, and placing online orders for what we couldn't find in stores. We checked all of our boxes and paid for everything out of pocket."
RC: "We had everything in place — the wipes, hand-washing stations, automatic sanitizer, disposable masks, water bottles for our clients because we couldn't use cups — I was super proud. I think a huge testament was that Megan Rapinoe made an appointment to get her hair done at the salon the first week after we safely reopened. At that point, she had yet to even leave her home because U.S. Soccer was telling their athletes to take all the necessary precautions. But one of the first public places she visited was Nine Zero One, and she told me multiple times that she felt good and safe in our salon."
NL: "We are extremely strict about the dangers of this virus and the health of our staff, our stylists, and everyone who comes into the salon. For us, it hits close to home, because one of our staff members actually passed away from complications related to COVID-19. She had a compromised immune system and she passed during the three-month period while the salon was shut down. We take every safety measure very seriously. Everyone gets tested regularly, and we are strict about following the CDC guidelines; it's a lot of extra work for us, but it's important. COVID-19 is very real. It's scary, but we do need to live our lives and find ways to move forward safely."
RC: "I will say, I'm really glad we had that month of being open in between the first and second closure. That month gave us a little bit of income. We were able to make money for a month — not a lot, but a little."
NL: "Where costs are concerned, we were fortunate enough to get the Paycheck Protection Program loan early on — but there were strings attached. The government said that 75% of the loan had to be used to pay our employees, and the other 25% could go to the salon. However, that 75% only helped us to pay some of our employees, specifically our building manager, front desk staff, and cleaning staff. But our hairstylists — who cut and color at the salon — are technically booth renters, not full-time employees, so none of that loan money went to them."
NL: "We implemented an increased commission system for hair stylists who can't work right now, offering a 40% commission on the products we sell at the salon though our hair-care line, In Common. It's a great way for clients to directly support their stylist by purchasing a shampoo or conditioner. For some stylists enrolled in our Pro commission program, that 40% commission has been literally lifesaving during this time when they have no form of income. Someone told us that because of it, she was able to afford to pay her nanny and put gas in her car."
RC: "Months went by and the government never amended the policy to allow us to put more of that loan money towards the PPE we needed to outfit the salon for safety or rent payments. So, as owners, we took a huge hit financially. But we made it work — until the second shutdown. We were open almost exactly a month to the day before we had to shut down again. We were in the salon with clients who had foils and bleach in their hair when Governor Gavin Newsom announced that California salons must be closed immediately. There was no warning; we just got an alert on our phones."
NL: "We've now been told that we can go outside, but that's essentially only feasible for dry haircuts. I wouldn't be able to take color clients outside because there's no way to get a shampoo bowl out there, and I don't think our clients would want their heads under a garden hose, or some kind of makeshift option. We don't even have a parking lot — we'd have to buy a tarp, a tent, and probably a million other things."
RC: "At the end of the day, we all have to protect our health, and that makes me afraid for the future of the salon industry. Every day, another big salon closes for good. For us, it would be nice to know how long we're going to be closed, so we could have some forecast of how long we have to weather this storm. As it stands now, we're just getting alerts and scrambling, and it's a nightmare. But we try to remain positive for our salon team; I don't want to put my stress on them, because that doesn't do anything for anyone. I think all salon owners out there have to do their best to show that kind of positivity."