ST. PETERSBURG — People with broken nails, split ends and callused feet rejoiced across Tampa Bay as nail and hair salons opened Monday morning.
An executive order by Gov. Ron DeSantis allowed barbershops and nail spas to reopen after a five-week shutdown, but with new requirements aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus.
To limit capacity, all salons must operate by appointment only. No drop-ins or group appointments are allowed. Employees must wear masks while performing personal services, and many are requiring the same from customers, as well.
Lily Long, owner of Nail-tastic Organic Spa in St. Petersburg, said she started installing plastic barriers at the manicure tables in mid-April. Long hoped salons would be included in the governor’s original May 1 opening order and wanted to get everything sanitized and ready to go by then.
“Everything is changing now,” Long said. “We’re not the same anymore.”
Long had a full salon at 10 a.m. Monday. But full has a different meaning now. She allows four customers at a time, spaced six feet apart. Three women alternated every other pedicure chair as technicians massaged, soaked and painted their toes.
Seated at one of the manicure tables, another woman extended her hand for a technician to remove gel nail polish that had been on for weeks.
“Can you tell I’m smiling?” she asked, her grin covered by the light blue mask. “I’m just so happy you’re open. It’s been so long.”
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From Dunedin to Valrico, salon owners spent the weekend disinfecting work stations, mopping floors and sanitizing tools. It’s a routine they’ll repeat between each customer and again before reopening each day.
Gregory Brady, owner of Salon GW in Dunedin, said he and his staff had worked through the week scrubbing the salon, which opened in 1985. They cleaned until the first client walked through the door at 11:30 a.m. for a wash, color and cut. Brady felt good about all their preparations, but he said he and his staff were not entirely mentally ready for a return to work.
“We’ve been off for seven weeks, so when they announced the Phase 1 reopening, we all had a pit of anxiety in our stomachs,” he said. “We have the team we have to protect, and we have the client we need to protect. It’s a bit overwhelming, but we are ahead of the game.”
Experts say salons are still risky places to visit because of the close interaction between stylist and client. People who aren’t feeling well are encouraged to err on the side of caution and stay home.
Trang Le, owner of Hong Kong Nails in St. Petersburg, was delighted to see some of her regulars Monday morning. But she turned down some older clients who have called hoping to make an appointment this week.
“I tell them, ‘It’s not your time to get out of the house yet,’” she said, adding that some of her clients are over 90. “'You can wait another two weeks. Don’t be in a hurry to come in.' We don’t want them to get sick.”
Like Le, many owners are requiring clients to wear a face covering. Others are letting each customer decide.
Co’chiese Sanders, 42, operates a mobile barber salon that travels throughout the Tampa Bay area. By 9 a.m., he had already seen a dozen clients at ManCave Beverly Hills. Sanders, who wore a black mask, offered masks to each. No one wanted one.
”They’re not too concerned," he said. "They’re just happy to get a haircut.”
His ProMaster Ram van only has enough space for one client at a time, so social distancing is easy.
“Man, it feels so nice,” client Bobby Howard said. “I already had to have my wife trim it twice.”
“It looked like Shaggy from Scooby Doo,” Sanders quipped.
But not everyone is ready to get up close and personal to revive their hair and nails, no matter how shaggy they’re looking.
Jamie Hall of St. Petersburg, said she’s watching how each salon is handling the cleaning requirements and what information they’re sharing with clients.
"Are they required to wear a mask? Are guests required to wear a mask? What are the capacity guidelines?” Hall asked. “If these questions aren’t clearly answered for me prior to booking, I’m not yet going in for service.”
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After more than a month off, owners are eager to help their customers feel comfortable returning to their salons. Some customers, not needing the extra reassurance, were up and out early Monday to settle into the plush salon chairs.
At Hong Kong Nails, Diana, who did not want to give her last name, watched as a nail technician applied Essie’s Aruba Blue to her freshly buffed nails. Both women wore masks.
“Did I run in this morning? You bet I did,” Diana said. “I can look at a shoe and get a callus. I have to have them done, otherwise I walk around in pain all the time.”
Diana said she normally comes to the salon every three weeks, always with her own nail polish in hand. It’s been two months. She wiggled her toes as the shimmery deep blue polish dried. “It just feels better.”
Andres Felipe Del Castillo, known as Fade Master Dre to his customers, felt a range of emotions as his seven Tampa-based Fade Masters Barbershop locations reopened. Thanks to Instagram photos and videos of creative, clean cuts, the company has garnered a cult-like following since first opening in 2002.
Castillo posted another video to his Facebook page Sunday night, this time speaking to other barbers about facing together the unknown challenges the coronavirus may bring.
“Now, our job is going to be to keep the public safe and keep the barbershops a safe and clean environment for clients," Castillo said in the video. "Let’s show the governor, the mayor and the whole government that our barbershops are safe for the public and that we take this seriously.”
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Many stylists, barbers and nail techs have been out of work since the end of March. Monday brought a sense of relief and the hope of a paycheck.
Hillsborough has 2,215 barbers or barbershop owners designated as active, according to data at the website of the state Division of Business and Professional Regulation. In Pinellas, the number is 958 and in Pasco, 577.
There are an additional 34,400 licensed cosmetologists, nail specialists and other personal-care workers in the three counties who can now return to work.
DeSantis’ emergency shut-down orders made it illegal for hairstylists to make house calls or cut hair from their homes.Throughout Hillsborough’s suburbs, Bloomingdale and Panther Trace among them, homemade signs inquiring “Haircut?” have popped up on community bulletin boards, medians and lamp posts. But the risk of discovery in the underground haircut network came at too high a price for many stylists — the threat of losing your state license for a year or more.
For many of the 45 stylists working out of Salons By J.C in Valrico, this week will be the first opportunity to earn money in nearly two months. By 11 a.m. Monday, nearly every stylist was whisking clients in and out of their chairs, correcting DIY “coronacuts” and bottled coloring gone wrong.
Despite the green light from the state, many managers decided to keep their doors shut for now. More than half a dozen salons in downtown St. Petersburg were still dark Monday morning. An out-of-date sign at Aveda on 3rd informed would-be customers that the salon would be closed through April 5.
Jessyca Glover has worked at her family’s Sarasota business, Today’s Cut Barber Shop, for nearly 15 years. The shop closed in mid-March and reopened Monday, but the 34-year-old barber opted to stay home for another week. Working isn’t worth the risk that comes with touch.
“I don’t trust that most people in the general public are following proper guidelines and feel it’s too soon to be that close to so many people,” Glover said. “Most of my regular customers are desperate for a haircut but have been understanding and willing to wait a little while longer.”
Staff writers Douglas R. Clifford, Dirk Shadd and Dennis Joyce contributed to this report.
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