Hairstylists are waiting out the pandemic

Renee Davis (left), Valerie Smith-Hastings and Ashley Paquette are staying home and staying safe while Smith-Hastings's Middlebury salon, the Hair Network, remains shuttered because of the coronavirus pandemic. Smith-Hastings hopes to reopen the shop sometime in May, but that will depend on Gov. Scott's timeline for gradually restarting the state economy.

VERMONT — Collectively, Vermont residents have grown more than 7 miles of hair since mid-March, when Gov. Scott ordered the shutdown of hair salons and barbershops in order to help slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
We have grown shaggy and our roots are showing.
For the do-it-yourselfers among us there is plenty of advice online about how to cut or color or otherwise alter our own hair — or fix the mistakes we made the first time around — or marvel or laugh at others.
One particularly well done YouTube video by “The Holderness Family” parodies the song “True Colors” by ’80s pop star Cyndi Lauper, updating the lyrics for those who haven’t seen their “real hair color since 1998.”
“I see your true colors, you’re not a blonde, are you?” they sing. “You’re beautiful like a grayish-brown rainbow.”
As the video’s protagonist reluctantly opens a box of store-bought hair dye, the singing continues.
“That picture on the box, that’s what you wanted. It looks nice and easy. But that box is lying. Your bathroom looks like a meth lab … I see your new colors, you look like the Tiger King.”
But for Vermont’s hair stylists, barbers and other beauty workers, temporary business closures and home confinement haven’t offered much in the way of amusement.
“We don’t have jobs right now,” said Valerie Smith-Hastings, who owns and operates the Hair Network in Middlebury.
The Hair Network isn’t big enough to benefit from the Paycheck Protection Program, part of the federal CARES Act, Smith-Hastings said, but she has applied for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan.
She’s most worried about her peers around the state who are sole proprietors, who until very recently did not qualify for unemployment benefits, and who even now are struggling to get relief.
Smith-Hastings is hopeful she’ll be able to reopen the Hair Network sometime in May, but that will largely depend on Gov. Scott and the timeline he sets for reopening businesses around the state.
Last week Scott loosened restrictions on construction, manufacturing and some other outdoor employers who can now deploy crews of up to five people.
With coronavirus cases having plateaued for more than a week at that time, Scott said that he was comfortable easing up on restrictions he placed on nonessential businesses in March.
But there is no word yet on when businesses like hair salons, massage parlors or fitness centers might reopen.
In the meantime, Smith-Hastings is participating in discussions hosted by “RestartVT,” one of three teams that make up the Vermont Economic Mitigation & Recovery Task Force, which was established by the governor on April 14.
The goal of the team is to develop plans for the “smooth, safe and orderly reopening of the economy in concert with the State Emergency Operations Center and the Department of Health,” according to its website.
At the moment, Smith-Hastings and her peers still have many unanswered questions. One thing seems certain, however: When salons and shops reopen, things will not be the same as they were before, at least not at first.
“We’ll be wearing masks and aprons,” Smith-Hastings said. “Clients will be wearing masks.”
Appointments may have to be shortened or spaced out more to accommodate the extra sanitizing that will have to happen.
But Smith-Hastings is less worried about the actual logistics of maintaining social distancing in her salon than she is about how it will affect the overall experience for her stylists and her clients.
“We make our living on beauty and making people feel better,” she said. “We touch our clients a lot, we put our hands on their shoulders, we take care of them, we reassure them.”
Preserving that sense of care and reassurance — “the joy part,” as Smith-Hastings calls it — will be the Hair Network’s main mission when it reopens.
In preparation for that day, she and her husband, Ken, are beautifying the salon itself. Ken has refinished the floors and they’re doing some painting.
Smith-Hastings and her stylists, Renee Davis and Ashley Paquette, have received a few special requests from clients in need, but the Hair Network is heeding the governor’s call to “Stay Home, Stay Safe.”
“People have asked for advice about what they should get in the hair color aisle at Kinney Drug,” Smith-Hastings said. “We tell them to find the most temporary color they can find (preferably one that washes out) — and go lighter than you think you are.”
Paquette, who lives in Addison, is at home helping to educate her children.
“COVID-19 has brought us back to our roots in so many ways, including our natural color and the growth of our lovely locks,” Paquette said. “We (stylists) are home and a little messy now, navigating things unlike they were before, but also growing in a new direction.”
Perhaps, Paquette mused, home confinement during the pandemic will inspire new hairstyles.
“As the gates open up and we are able to safely enjoy getting our hair done, we will feel a new appreciation for what was once routine,” she said. “I know for sure I will enjoy smiling at each and every one of my clients when the time is right and safe, even if it’s with my eyes above a mask.”
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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