What It's Really Like to Be a Hair Salon Owner Going Back to Work Right Now

As of April 24, Alaska became one of the first states in the nation to ease its restrictions on select nonessential businesses, including hair salons. While social-distancing requirements and state-wide mandates are in place to avoid the spread of the novel coronavirus, salon owners like Mandy Leslie of The Loft Hair Design in Anchorage, AK, are now tasked with the conflicting decision of when, exactly, to open up shop. This story was told to Kelsey Castañon and edited for length and clarity.

The day I go back to work, on May 11, it'll have been 50 days that I have been out of the salon. That's the longest time I've gone without doing hair in 14 years - my entire career.

My business partner and I, Whitney, waited until the last day to shut our doors. I probably would have done it a little sooner - the state-mandated order was to close by 10 p.m. on March 22 - but it was a difficult decision for us to make without someone telling us to do it, or having a set date, because it affected so many other people's lives.

Originally we had planned to reopen May 4, a week after the news, but when we sat down and crunched the numbers, it just wasn't realistic. There was no way we'd be ready by then with all the required materials and sanitary measures. So much was unclear. There were contradictory orders between the state, the city; even the Board of Barbers and Hairdressers in Alaska had to hold a 500-person Zoom call to go over all our concerns.

As for me, I was all over the board. I was conflicted at the thought of going back to work: excited to see my clients and get back to doing what I love, but also really worried. I'm going to have to be in everyone's bubble. There's a lot of anxiety around that.

The Internal Dilemma of Getting Back to the Salon Right Now

I know all of my staff is chomping at the bit to get back to work because none of us have received unemployment, so we've all been really having a hard time financially. Because me and my husband are self-employed, we also haven't seen any sort of relief yet. At this point in time, my household hasn't even seen their stimulus checks. It's been crazy. Never in my life have I ever had to evaluate anything as strictly as I am right now when it comes to my finances, so I'm eager to be able to provide to my household again.

I'm also a really social person. I miss being at my job, I miss being behind the chair, I miss seeing my clients. Even at this point, calling and rescheduling and getting them back on the books has been so nice to be able to just hear how everyone is doing. I can't wait to see a few familiar faces, even though it's obviously going to be different.

Right now, I have control over where I am and who I see and how safe I'm being, but then when you put it into a large population of people who are very, very close to one another, it gives me a bit of a scare.

But I'm now feeling this severe anxiety knowing that I'm going to see a lot of people, and it has been difficult for me to realize I'm going to have to give up a lot of control. Right now, I have control over where I am and who I see and how safe I'm being, but then when you put it into a large population of people who are very, very close to one another, it gives me a bit of a scare. I start thinking about my stylists - we have 10 of us, so that's 20 people in a room if they let us all work at the same time. It's nerve-wracking to know that you have this huge responsibility to take care of these people the best way you can. It comes with an uneasy feeling of, "Am I doing the best that I can? Have I checked all the appropriate boxes? Have I made sure everything's in order?"

It's been a rollercoaster of emotions. I've felt an overwhelming amount of stress for me and my business partner for the last month and a half - just trying to make sure that we can keep everybody afloat, and that we can help everyone out as much as we can.

The Logistics (and Price) of Reopening a Hair Salon

We were given really strict guidelines, but they were also a lot of things that contradicted themselves. There were things that, because they weren't specifically stated, it's kind of left to interpretation.