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Hawaii salons and barbershops are anxious to reopen

  • Video by Bruce Asato and Craig T. Kojima

    An estimated 1,620 beauty shops and 265 barbershops in Hawaii have temporarily shuttered since the March 23 stay-at-home order to stem the coronavirus.

  • BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Julie Tran of Cosmic Beauty hair salon scrubbed the empty nail lounge area Sunday using a disinfectant towelette to wipe down a recently installed transparent barrier that separates the nail stylist from the customer.

    BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Julie Tran of Cosmic Beauty hair salon scrubbed the empty nail lounge area Sunday using a disinfectant towelette to wipe down a recently installed transparent barrier that separates the nail stylist from the customer.

  • BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Julie Tran and husband Alex Huynh, owners of Cosmic Beauty hair salon, were at their empty shop Sunday.

    BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Julie Tran and husband Alex Huynh, owners of Cosmic Beauty hair salon, were at their empty shop Sunday.

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Above, Ben Faraon, manager of Golden Hawaii Barbershop in Kaimuki, shown Saturday at the shop. Owner Grant Fukuda said they have applied for every grant available for small businesses.

    CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Above, Ben Faraon, manager of Golden Hawaii Barbershop in Kaimuki, shown Saturday at the shop. Owner Grant Fukuda said they have applied for every grant available for small businesses.

Prior to the mandated emergency orders brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Cosmic Beauty, a full-service salon at the Kapolei Village Center, bustled with dozens of clients a day.

Now the salon sits empty after owners Julie Tran and her husband, Alex Huynh, temporarily closed its doors March 23 to comply with emergency rules implemented by the government to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Though Tran fully understands the closure was necessary to ensure the safety of clients and employees, the salon — like hundreds of salons and barbershops in the state — is struggling.

“None of us can generate income right now,” Tran said. “We all have families. It’s really stressful. What can we do? We can’t do anything right now.”

Cosmic Beauty is among the estimated 1,620 beauty shops and 265 barbershops in Hawaii that have temporarily shuttered.

There are approximately 1,420 barbers and 8,600 beauty operators in Hawaii, according to the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. Beauty operators include cosmetologists, hairdressers, estheticians and nail technicians.

Tran hoped to reopen Cosmic Beauty this weekend, but since the state extended the emergency order through the end of May, she worries how she will cover her monthly rent.

She has since applied for a small-business loan. Meanwhile, the salon’s 17 employees — a mix of hairstylists, manicurists, estheticians and front desk staff — have filed for unemployment but have yet to receive any benefits.

During the closure, Tran and her husband continue to visit Cosmic Beauty weekly to sanitize the shop. While at home they think of new ideas to boost marketing to generate revenue when the salon reopens.

Meanwhile, she has remained connected with her clients through Instagram and provides tips on hair or nail care during the emergency order.

Cleo Lee, who has co-owned Envy Salon at the Hawaii National Bank Building in the Ala Moana area for the past 17 years, has also applied for a business loan. Longtime clients have offered to pay for hair services in advance to help her business financially. “It’s so sweet and so considerate. They understand that we have to pay rent and (we have) no income.”

She said she plans to set new guidelines to ensure clients’ and employees’ health and safety. “For sure, things will change,” she said. There are eight stylists at Envy who are independent contractors. Lee said they probably will stagger schedules so four stylists are in the salon at a time.

Websites such as barbicide.com and behindthechair.com offer tips, checklist and work plans on what salons and barbershops can do to prepare their businesses before they reopen.

Though it’s unknown when salons and barbers may resume services, all anticipate a rush of customers once the government allows businesses to reopen. Lee said, “All of our clients are screaming, ‘My God! My hair!’”

With the weeks-long closure, many clients have sought recommendations from their stylists on hair care. The top concern: root touch-ups for gray hair.

Some stylists recommend temporary touch-ups with a wand that is similar in size to a mascara brush. If individuals opt to buy at-home hair-dye products at a store, Cleo Lee recommends choosing a dye that is similar to your existing hair color. An individual also might consider starting off with a light dye rather than a dark dye because a light color is easier to cover again should you need to go darker.

Overall, stylists recommend clients wait until salons reopen because it could potentially cost more to correct a mistake. Tran said, “It’s going to cost them more to fix them when we go back.”

At Salon Blanc on the ground floor of the Hokua luxury condominium building in Kakaako, owner Alan Vuong said the salon has been sanitized during the closure and the chairs rearranged farther apart.

“We’re making sure we have safety kits for our clients which include masks,” Vuong said.

Owner Marian Lee of Mojo Barbershop in McCully said she is trying to be resilient during these uncertain times. “We’re not sure when exactly we’re going to reopen, what business is going to look like when we do reopen. We’re playing it day by day.”

“The most important thing here is people’s health and lives. That comes before everything, but at the same time the longer we wait, the harder it is for my business and my employees,” she added.

Mojo has eight barbers, who serve approximately 60 to 70 clients a day. All have since filed for unemployment, and Lee expects all of them to return once they get the go-ahead to reopen.

“All of our barbers are hanging in there. They all really miss being in the shop, seeing their clients. The routine of going to work and doing something they’re passionate about, that’s been taken away,” Lee said.

Since the barbershop closed March 22, Lee has applied for state and federal loans and created a GoFundMe account. She is also offering gift cards via mojobarbershop.com to generate some revenue in an effort to keep her business afloat. “We’re doing everything possible to keep our business alive at this point,” Lee said.

Grant Fukuda, owner of Golden Hawaii Barbershop in Kaimuki, which has four barbers, who are independent contractors, said the closure is “devastating for us.” Fukuda said they applied for every available grant for small-business owners.

Since the closure, Fukuda said, they have stayed connected with clients via Instagram.

He fears many small businesses in Hawaii will be forced to close permanently due to the pandemic’s adverse impacts. Fukuda said more resources from the government are needed for small-business owners and independent contractors. “Those are the people who are suffering the most,” he said.

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