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Hair salons in St. Albert weigh in on plans for reopening

Some salons are planning to reopen their doors, while others think May 14 is too soon

Hair salon owners in St. Albert say they were ready to implement many of the safe opening procedures outlined by the province before they were released on Monday.

Since Premier Jason Kenney announced hair salons would be allowed to reopen as early as May 14, several petitions have started on from hairstylists in Alberta asking for the province to reconsider.

Provincial officials have stressed the May 14 opening date is not mandatory for businesses listed in Phase 1, and they can reopen later once they feel they're prepared to do it safely amid COVID-19. 

On Monday, the government announced an online public health resource for businesses that are set to open later this week. In an update on Tuesday, the website gave a list of PPE providers and the recommended PPE for each sector.

Diane Chong, owner of Studio 107, said they are planning a dry-run opening for staff on Thursday and Friday, with the hope of reopening next week. But as of Monday night, she said she has been told by the province the May 14 date is still "not set in stone." 

The salon will follow stricter guidelines than those issued by the province, she said, but she's still unsure why hair salons were allowed to open up their doors so soon.

"I don't know why we're in Phase 1. Initially, I was like, 'Oh, thank God, we're in Phase 1, I can get my shop opened again.' But what they picked for each phase doesn't make sense," she said.

"My nail technician can't open yet and she touches people's hands, but I can open while I'm touching people's faces."

Despite this, there's been a lot of planning and preparation work done to make sure clients at Studio 107 feel safe to sit back in the chair.

There will only be 15 people in the salon at a time, with seven hairdressers, seven clients and one support staff. Each client will be kept six feet apart from other people in the salon, except for the hairstylist.

Recognizing social distancing is impossible in her line of work, only regular customers will be allowed in first, she said.

Each person will be asked to answer a questionnaire to ensure they aren't at high risk of contracting COVID-19 before they sit in a chair. Every piece of equipment will be sanitized after use, each station wiped down with disinfectant. Chong estimates the salon has spent thousands of dollars on extra sanitizing supplies alone.

She's managed to secure a week's worth of masks and other personal protective equipment through her suppliers.

To cover the cost of surgical masks for their clients, the salon is planning to implement a five-per-cent standing fee for customers at the door. Currently, the salon has 55 N-95 masks for her stylists, which cost more than $5 each, and more surgical masks for customers are on the way. 

Different plans for reopening

Instead of waiting for more direction from the province as a potential reopening date drew closer, salon owners took it upon themselves to figure out what their 'new normal' would look like. Chantel Bourgeois, owner of The Rock Salon & Spa, said if permitted, their hair salon will open for returning and new customers right on May 14, while the spa remains closed. Already, appointments are booked up for the next six weeks.

"People love their hairdressers and love to be pampered, although we might not necessarily be able to do all the extras that we normally do, like a scalp massage and makeup," she said. "We can't wait to get started."

Clients will be asked to wait in their cars until a stylist is ready for them. Temperatures will be taken at the door for everyone walking in, and hairstylists are doubling up on face masks and face shields.

Proper sanitization measures will be done for all chairs and equipment after each use. Sourcing PPE from local suppliers has given the salon enough equipment to last nine months, Bourgeois said. 

The salon can open at full capacity on May 14 with physical distancing measures because they have a large space to work with, Bourgeois said.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Foo, owner of X-treme Creations, said they won't reopen until May 26 if all goes as planned. Personal services are part of Phase 2, and Foo said she's also unsure of why the province decided to allow hair salons to open sooner. 

"It just struck me as odd that we got divided in that manner," she said. 

Pushing back reopening will give her salon extra time to make sure they're properly prepared and an opportunity to watch for any more spikes in case numbers, she said.

Time to adjust

For hairstylists and their clients, there will be a lot of anxiety to overcome for the first initial start-up. 

Sitting down with a face mask in one of Studio 107's chairs for a photo, I felt my shoulders tense and my breathing slow. I jumped when Chong took out a new brush to comb through my hair.

"You seem really anxious! Even your breathing stopped," Chong noticed, placing her hands on my shoulders. 

Even with her N-95 mask on and clean hands, this 'new normal' will take some time to process – I wasn't even aware of how I was reacting until she said it. 

But as time went on, I felt my body relax back into the chair. It was surreal, even comforting, to have physical contact with another person after weeks of social distancing. 

Making their clients feel safe and secure in this first phase will play a huge role for stylists, Chong said. 

"That's my number two concern. Number one, we need to make sure we're all safe and clean. But number two, they need to feel good. That's my priority."

Bourgeois said relaxing their client's mind is just part of their job.

"People that have anxiety often come to their hairdresser for advice, stress relief and to feel good," she said. "I think it's going to help."

Stylists will need time to adjust too, especially when dealing with people at higher risk of contracting the virus, said Kelsey Smith, a hairstylist with Studio 107.

While she said she feels safe to return to work next week, Smith wants the public to know how important it is for everyone to take these health and safety measures seriously. Everyone is due for a haircut, but patience will be the key to making sure people can stay safe in this 'new normal.'

"We're not overly excited to open – we're hesitant to open," she said. 

"If you've been out and about and have not been taking this seriously, maybe don't come in, or definitely wear proper protective equipment and wash your hands. I just want them to take this as seriously as some of us have been."