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Social distancing and the wearing of face masks by clients and staff are required at personal care businesses. The governor re-opened personal care businesses June 22 and staff said their phones are “ringing off the hook,” as people clamor to get appointments.

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COURT HOUSE - If social media posts and memes are to be believed, one of the most anticipated re-openings during the COVID-19 pandemic was personal care businesses, which re-opened June 22.

A random survey of operators of local barbershops, hair and nail salons, and day spas described the first week as “crazy, the phone hasn’t stopped ringing.”

As one Stone Harbor spa manager quipped, “Businesses were opening, but we didn’t want to go anywhere until our nails and hair were done.”

Gov. Phil Murphy signed Executive Order 154 (https://bit.ly/3g2ffnz) re-opening cosmetology, barber, beauty, hair braiding, nail and electrology shops, day and medical spas where elective and cosmetic medical procedures are performed, massage parlors, tanning salons, and tattoo shops, as long as they comply with standards issued by the state Department of Health and Division of Consumer Affairs.

Those standards include limiting services to appointment-only, performing health screening, including temperature checks, on clients and staff before entry into the facility; requiring the use of personal protective equipment and requiring clients to wear face coverings at all times, unless face down on a massage table, or where doing so would inhibit an individual’s health; ensuring all staff-client pairs maintain at least 6 feet distance between other staff-client pairs, unless separated by physical barriers; adopting enhanced cleaning and disinfection practices; and staying informed about new developments and guidance related to COVID-19.

According to a press release from the governor’s office, personal care services were opened because “they typically do not have an outdoor alternative, can be conducted with limited and controlled interactions as opposed to in an uncontrolled environment, and can be conducted with both staff and clients wearing masks at nearly all times, unlike activities such as indoor dining.”

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At Railroad Barbershop, in Rio Grande, staff rotates shifts to enable the business to follow guidelines in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing, the wearing of face masks, services by appointment, and other health regulations must be followed at this time.

While some of the requirements, such as making appointments, were part of the usual way of doing business, most of the other requirements are a new experience for businesses.

“All our services were by appointment before, and they are now, as well,” said Lea Gorodesky, Salt Spa manager at The Reeds at Shelter Haven, in Stone Harbor. They offer hair and nail services, tanning, and massages among others.

She said most of their clients are locals and “regulars,” primarily women, who fill the schedule at the small spa. “We did get a few men who haven’t had their hair cut in a while, but our clients are primarily female,” she said.

The day before an appointment, clients are emailed a waiver, acknowledging they are “taking a risk with COVID-19, even though we are doing everything possible to keep everyone safe,” Gorodesky said. “Right now, we are booking nail appointments two weeks out.” The waiver is one of the new requirements.

Clients and staff must wear face masks, she said, and no facial massages are allowed at this time. “If someone gets a massage, no face mask is required when they are face down,” she noted. “At this time, we also aren’t allowed to do facial massages, nor face or lip waxing.”

For a barbershop owner, in Rio Grande, appointments, temperature checks, health screenings, and social distancing requirements are new operating methods, so he had his staff conduct a rehearsal of a working day, with family, a few days before the shop opened.

Brian Leach, who owns Railroad Barbershop, in Rio Grande, said his phone was “ringing off the hook,” keeping seven barbers working, but not at the same time because of social distancing requirements.

“Some of our barbers have day jobs, so they cut hair at night,” Leach explained, “and we have a woman doing cuts and colors on Sundays. We have personal protective equipment, masks, gloves, two filtration systems, disinfectant spray, and overnight, we disinfect, so we are doing everything that’s required and then some.

“I also own a construction company, so I’ve been dealing with the requirements all along, so I am pretty familiar with doing what is required,” he said. He also stayed in touch with employees while they weren’t working to make sure they were managing financially and otherwise.

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Clients who have an appointment for personal care services, such as haircutting, must go through a series of health checks before being allowed to receive a service. Magazines and books have been removed from any waiting area, as health officials want to limit contact between individuals and on surfaces as much as possible. 

Making appointments rather than walk-ins is something new for Leach, so his receptionist is handling that, along with taking temperatures, getting waivers signed, and asking the required wellness questions. Employees come in a half-hour early to set up everything that’s required.

“My shop is pretty big, so we have plenty of room to space out,” he noted, “but there’s no more waiting room with magazines or books anymore.”

Although no facials, shaves, beard or nose trimming can occur, Leach said he offers the “hot towel experience” for customers. “We put the hot towel on the back of the neck and do a straight shave,” he said. “We’re an old-school barbershop. Guys like to be pampered, too.

“We want you to feel like a million bucks when you leave,” he continued.

Holly Patrick, owner of Evolution Salon and Spa, in North Cape May, said she is “happy” to do all the extra precautions required because she’s glad to get back to work. As a small business owner whose husband also works at the salon, she said they spent their time not working in the shop, cleaning. “My husband and I would come in, clean, disinfect and re-arrange inside,” she said. “Everyone has been so understanding, and it’s great to be back at work.”

Because of the new guidelines, she eliminated three chairs, so the remaining three chairs can be separated, as needed. Without a waiting room, clients wait in their car until they can come into the store, which is after the previous client leaves, and the area is disinfected.

“It’s a longer process between customers because of all the disinfecting and cleaning that has to occur, but it’s worth it,” Patrick said. “We’re very happy to be back at work.”

To contact Karen Knight, email kknight@cmcherald.com.