Georgia Salons Can Legally Open For Business — But Local Stylists Have Other Plans

Photo: Russ Bynum/AP/Shutterstock.
Georgia stylists face the difficult decision on when they can safely return to work.
Life as we know it has changed dramatically over the past few months as communities across the country continue to be impacted by COVID-19. The novel coronavirus has hit some states especially hard. As of Friday afternoon, New York had more than 263,000 confirmed cases, while further down south, Louisiana had seen nearly 25,000. Meanwhile, Georgia's confirmed cases have now surpassed 21,000.
The numbers are frightening, especially in communities where the virus disproportionately affects people of color, and it has many health experts warning the public to continue to shelter-in-place — despite any changes to local or state mandates.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp announced that, as of today, select non-essential businesses may reopen in the state, like gyms, bowling alleys, tattoo parlors, barbershops, and salons. But the decision has left a large population of beauty service professionals torn, especially in Atlanta, where many of them thrive.
"People working in many of these places are at home going broke, worried about whether or not they can feed their children or make the mortgage payment," Gov. Kemp said in a press conference following his decision earlier this week. "We also have to think about the effects on our economy and on those individuals from a mental health perspective."
The move prompted an immediate response from Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who pleaded with residents on CNN to stay home, despite Kemp's order. “We have public health officials, scientists, and experts who are saying that for us to get through this pandemic and for us to get to the other side of this crisis, we have to socially distance,” Bottoms says “What I expect to see is that some people simply will not listen. Some people will go into hair salons and get manicures and pedicures as if it’s business as usual, and I expect that in a couple of weeks, we will see our numbers continue to rise in this state."
Though Kent’s order legally permits salons to open, Bottoms put it simply for Atlanta residents: “Stay home,” she says. “Nothing has changed. People are still dying. We’ve got to get money into the pockets of people who are concerned about putting food on their tables and paying their rent. That’s where we should be putting our energy.”

"I understand that my service is essential to many people, but assisting in the spread of COVID-19 is not one of my priorities."

Trent Baldwin, Barber & Owner of F&B Studio Grooming Lounge
To help, Bottoms announced that she would be starting a fund to support stylists in the Atlanta area who require financial assistance. “My mom owned a hair salon for nearly 25 years. It was there that I met men and women who changed my life,” she wrote in an Instagram post. “That’s why helping these men and women, who are more than stylists, is so important to me.” Bottoms kickstarted the Strength In Beauty Fund with a $10,000 donation of her own.
It's left many beauty pros with a dilemma: To reopen or not to reopen? "It's a hard situation because I am a single mother and the sole provider for my family," says Zana Cook, hairstylist and owner of Z Chic Salon. "I don't have a lot of the help that people with spouses and wealthy parents might, so it's up to me to take care of myself and my son."
Cook’s circumstances have left her considering reopening sooner rather than later. “When the stay-at-home order was put in place, I paused services for booking until April 29th,” she says. “I still intend to allow clients to book services as of the 29th.” For her, sanitation and safety measures are something that she says licensed hairstylists should already be trained to practice, but the most significant adjustment will be servicing one client at a time. “It’s different because I would usually be able to service two to three people, so it will be much slower even when things reopen, which makes it very unpredictable,” Cook says. “I’ve made the decision based on my needs, and I know that doesn’t work for everyone, but it does for me.”
Brent Johnson-Gage, a co-owner of Made Art Salon in Atlanta, faced a similar predicament. When the announcement that salons could reopen was made, his phone was flooded with appointment requests from clients. “A lot of my friends who are stylists are in the same predicament as me,” he says. “They’re nervous about opening but, like me, they feel like there isn’t another option because of rent and utilities.” Johnson-Gage, who was planning on resuming services today, got cold feet last night. “It was a hard decision but I spoke with some medical professionals and some colleagues, and they all said not to open,” he says. “We have been getting so many mixed signals from the government and we feel it isn’t safe enough for us or our clients to open yet.”
Other Georgia-based artists, like independent stylist TeQuerra Miller, felt differently from the jump. “I stopped working a week before stay-at-home orders were enforced,” says Miller. “I’m a diabetic, therefore considered high-risk, so I decided to keep me and my family safe by canceling appointments early. I’ll pick my health over money any day."
For Trent Baldwin, a barber who owns F&B Studio Grooming Lounge in Marietta, business has been hit hard by COVID-19, but he still refuses to operate despite government advice. “I understand that my service is essential to many people, but assisting in the spread of COVID-19 is not one of my priorities,” he says. “I will not be reopening until May 1. That will give me enough time to follow COVID-19 [safety protocols] and understand what I may need to implement at my studio.” However, Baldwin says he'll be staying flexible based on the latest developments. “If I need to stall the reopening of my studio I will do so,” he says. “As of right now, I will be taking it day-by-day to keep myself and others safe.”
Local hairstylist Leah Morgan had plans to open her first independent suite before COVID-19 became widespread. “I have been working out of a salon for four years and decided to start my journey as a salon suite owner,” Morgan explains. The pandemic put those plans on hold, but Morgan plans to resume services as an independent artist when things are safe. "I do think that Friday is too soon to open," she says. "When things are safer, I do plan on honoring safety guidelines, serving one person at a time, wearing a mask, and practicing thorough sanitation. This is the new norm."
As artists in Georgia and beyond face the realities of what it means to reopen during a global pandemic, they share a common sense of uncertainty — and know they have difficult decisions ahead of them. "I think a lot will change because many people won't know how to manage under these circumstances," Miller says. "It’s unfortunate, but we have to adjust."
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the CDC website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.

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