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Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Avondale

‘Put It In A Ponytail’: Many Salons Close Up Shop As Coronavirus Spreads, While Others Press On To Keep Paying Stylists

"Hair is not life and death and we can't pretend that it is. [It] has to be on hold for now," one salon owner said. Though the closures will hit stylists and owners hard.

Smith & Davis Salon was forced to close.
Smith & Davis Salon / Facebook
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Editor’s note: Twisted Scissors decided to close its salons after we published this story. The story has been updated to reflect the closures.

CHICAGO — As businesses of all kinds are forced to close up and hunker down during the COVID-19 pandemic, salons and spas have been left to their own devices, with salon owners (and clients) wondering whether to pack up their scissors or keep cutting to pay the bills.

Summer Schumacher, who runs Broken Roller Hair Shop, 3280 W. Fullerton Ave., is one of many salon owners across Chicago opting to close until the end of March, piggybacking off the state’s unprecedented dine-in restaurant and bar shutdown.

“People have to put a hat on it and put it in a ponytail and be patient,” said Schumacher, who runs the shop with her husband. “Hair is not life and death and we can’t pretend that it is. [It] has to be on hold for now.”

Medical experts are encouraging six feet of space between people to prevent the spread, but that distance is impossible for stylists who work inches from their clients’ faces, Schumacher and other Chicago salon owners say.

They say protecting themselves, their staff and the general population from the disease, which is claiming lives around the world, is a top priority.

“Our staff was worried about being part of the problem,” said Lauren Kieninger, co-owner of Barbara & Barbara, 2925 W. Diversey Ave., which is closed until at least the end of March.

“I want to say we’ll all make it out healthy. But if we keep our doors open, that could be dozens and dozens of people walking out each day continuing to possibly spread [the virus].”

Bathsheba Nemerovski, co-owner of Sparrow, 2545 N. Milwaukee Ave., another salon closed until April, agreed, saying, “If we’re going to make it through this, we need to all be in it together.”

“Everybody needs to close so everyone can stay home so we don’t spread the disease,” she added.

Twelve new cases of the novel coronavirus had been recorded in Illinois as of Monday afternoon, bringing the state’s total to 105.

Gov J.B. Pritzker has ordered all schools in Illinois to close starting Tuesday and all bars and restaurants to close to dine-in customers starting Monday night. Drive-thru, curbside pickup and delivery services are still being offered.

The governor had not, however, shut down salons, barber ships, gyms and daycare centers as of Monday afternoon.

Small businesses everywhere are taking an enormous hit as people stay in their homes to stop the spread of the virus.

Fearing financial ruin, Twisted Scissors, which has locations at 2007 N. Point St. at 3059 N. Milwaukee Ave., originally planned to stay open. But by Tuesday afternoon, owners announced the two salons would close until April 1.

The closure will greatly affect the staff and their families, manager Katy Skinner said.

Dynamic Salon Studios, 1754 W. Division St., is staying open and doubling down on safety precautions, according to a Facebook post.

All Chicago salons, whether they’re closing or staying open, are under tremendous financial stress right now.

Closed shops are raising money online to tip workers and encouraging clients to buy gift cards for future appointments.

Barbara & Barbara has already raised $2,870 toward its $5,000 goal. The money, which acts like a tip jar, will go toward its 16 employees. The Logan Square shop is also selling gift cards by phone.

“There is no sick leave, no PTO, and, no ‘work from home.’ To shut down is the responsible thing for us to do, but it definitely hurts us financially,” the fundraiser reads.

Sparrow is urging clients to buy gift cards on its website. Twisted Scissors is raising money online. Broken Roller Hair Shop is selling gift cards by phone.

“It’s a hold your breath and wait kind of game,” said Kieninger, co-owner of Barbara & Barbara.

The owners are also hoping state government officials step up and provide financial relief to small businesses and help workers get unemployment benefits faster.

A petition calling on a federal aid package for the country’s cosmetology, barber and body work industry is circulating widely online.

Smith & Davis Salon, 735 W. Wrightwood Ave., is closed until the end of March. Co-owner Stevie Smith said closing was the “responsible thing to do,” though it will hurt her business “greatly.”

It’s also difficult, she noted, because salons aren’t just for pampering — they’re places of community.

“I worked on 9/11 and we didn’t have one cancelation. Not one. Not only that, people called in to get appointments because they were called off work. Not for reasons of vanity, for a sense of community,” Smith said.

“I work through some crises before and people do like to pamper themselves and we get that, but given the nature of this situation, it isn’t responsible for us to do that.”

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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