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"It's Like a Dam Broke." Local Hair Stylists Prepare for the Reopening Rush

As salon owners prepare for the first day of work since the shelter-in-place began, May 8, they are sanitizing and changing the rules to fit a new normal.
Courtesy of Abstra(kt)’s Facebook

As salon owners prepare for the first day of work since the shelter-in-place began, May 8, they are sanitizing and changing the rules to fit a new normal. Desi McMillian, an independent Plano-based stylist who runs her own one-person salon, isn’t taking it lightly.

It’s been a long couple of months without working, and many people in the beauty industry like McMillian have had it rough, going from multiple clients a day, washes, cuts, and colors, to no income overnight. The only saving grace was that by nature, most clients are longterm, built over years and loyal. There was some assurance that they would come back, McMillian says, but two months without work meant no new clients, no growth, and no cashflow.

A little more than 70 percent of hair salon workers either live paycheck-to-paycheck or have only about a month’s worth of savings, according to a poll by, an organization that supports hairdressers. As for health insurance, the majority go without: less than 25 percent report have it.

“Fortunately I was one of the lucky ones who received my stimulus first go around,” McMillian says.

She rents a small suite in a larger cluster, Salons on the Creek, and her landlord didn’t charge her rent during the closure. Many of her friends were worse off. “I have a client that owns a barber shop and their bank told them they were choosing to give larger loans to bigger companies so they didn’t have to give out smaller loans to more small businesses,” she says. “They received no loan. Luckily their landlord is adding the missed months rent to the end of their lease.”

Some didn’t receive their stimulus checks or unemployment, and had to do hair under the radar in their own homes and risk infection or law enforcement storming their makeshift establishments. Similar to the salon owner in Dallas, a hair stylist in downtown Melissa kept her salon open despite the nonessential business closure orders. 

None of them got anything like the kind of coverage and national attention that the Dallas salon owner, Shelley Luther of Salon A la Mode, did. She received so much press that, according to nonprofit media watchdog Media Matters, Fox News gave her story seven and a half times as much coverage as they did the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man in Georgia who was killed by two white men while out for a job. Her GoFundMe page has racked up more than $500,000 in donations. 

 “I mean, we all had to close and not work. What makes her special?” McMillian asks. But on the other hand, as a stylist, she understands Luther’s predicament. “Maybe she is in a really bad situation financially. It’s a hard place to be in. I see it from both sides,” she concludes.

McMillian’s salon suite is small, with only room for her and one client, which is another reason she considers herself lucky. A small space means it’ll be easy to clean regularly between clients. She is scheduling extra time between appointments to sanitize everything. 

“I think larger open salon concepts will have a harder time,” she says.

Kailee Werk is one of those stylists at a larger salon in Frisco, Abstra(kt) Studio. Abstra(kt) is known as an art space as well as a hair studio. Most of the local art that hangs on the walls is for sale. It’s also woman-owned, which Werk appreciates. 

As a larger salon, Abstra(kt) has to wrestle with the challenge of hosting multiple stylists at once while keeping their clientele at 25 percent. The space allows for four clients at a time, kept at a careful social distance. Their usual food and beverage service will be eliminated for the time being, and no one can come in until the salon texts them it’s time.

She describes new policies and sends a picture of the new signage on the door: “For the safety of our team and clientele, please do not enter without a mask. Masks must go around your ears as we require all clients to wear a mask while receiving all salon services.”

They are also implementing a client intake form for every client. Everyone will record their temperature, any symptoms, and any possible contact with COVID-19. If they have a fever, they will be asked to reschedule. Stylists will wear masks at all times, as well as disposable aprons. 

Facing down the new normal is a little overwhelming, Werk admits, especially when she, herself, is torn between needing the work, and being concerned that it’s not yet safe to reopen. 

But her clients are certainly ready. But there’s no time. The reopening has them clamoring to get an appointment as soon as possible for color and cuts. 

It also didn’t help that the opening date changed a few times. “At first it was late April. Then it was supposed to be May 1, but they announced then that it was going to be May 18 and now it’s [May] 8,” she says.

It means Abstra(kt) clients have made appointments, then rescheduled and rescheduled to get in as soon as possible.

“I’m just wanting to make everyone happy and get them,” Werk says. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy about it. I just wish I had more than two days to figure it all out. It’s like a dam broke. You have no idea.”