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How Nail Salons Are Planning to Reopen Amid COVID-19

Sneeze guards and PPE are the new normal.

Nail salons across the country are cautiously beginning the process of reopening. With pedicure season nigh, will customers flock to them?

Many salon owners seem to think so, based on their rapidly filling appointment books.

Varnish Paint Shoppe, a five-chair nail salon in Lexington, Ky., that specializes in nontoxic services, is set to reopen on Wednesday, and appointments are already booked out for the next three weeks. At Mylkbar Eco Nails and Beauty in Franklin, Tenn., where salons were allowed to reopen on May 6, extra staffers were brought in to help deal with the influx of clients.

“We’re fully booked in Nashville, and that’s even with the new staff we added,” said Katie Shields, Mylkbar’s founder. In Charleston, Mylkbar is slated to reopen on June 1, and Shields said appointments for the first week are already booking up despite there having been no formal announcement regarding reopening. “That means people were stalking the booking page,” she said. “It’s been insane — it’s like a full-time job trying to answer phone calls and e-mails.”

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Beauty and personal-care services in several states, including Texas, South Carolina, Kentucky and Florida, have been given the all-clear to reopen after government-mandated closures due to the spread of the novel coronavirus.

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Hair salons have begun to reopen this month to much fanfare, with local news reports featuring customers lined up outside Great Clips locations in Indiana and hair salon owners across the country reporting a swell of demand from clients desperate for a fresh cut or color.

Bellacures, a chain of nail salons in California and Texas, is cautiously optimistic about clients returning. The chain’s locations in California do not have a set opening date, but Texas is to open on June 3.

“Some people are excited about coming back, but I think there are good percentage of people who aren’t necessarily ready,” said Melissa Singer, director of marketing and brand development. “I think — and this is just my opinion — that with a nail salon versus a hair salon, perhaps because in a hair salon you aren’t facing someone, you’re facing the mirror, there’s a perception that it’s safer.”

Some owners, including Shields, are predicting customers will feel just as passionately about a fresh manicure as they do about a cut or color. 

“The thing about hair and nails is that it’s an affordable luxury, not something most people are willing to part with no matter what the economy is doing,” she said.

Mark Schlossberg, founder of Paint Nail Bar, a luxury nail concept that operates 15 franchises across the country, agreed. “It’s been crazy for us in all the best ways,” said Schlossberg, who said 10 out of 15 of his company’s salons in Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Missouri and North Carolina, including the flagship that he operates in Sarasota, are already open for business.

Paint locations have been booking about 80 to 100 services per day since reopening, said Schlossberg, and while “about five percent of clientele is not ready” to book salon services during the pandemic, an influx of new customers is more than making up for business lost. “We have more new first-time clients than ever,” said Schlossberg. “People aren’t going back to other places.”

Schlossberg attributes the new wave of customers to the chain’s commitment sterilization and sanitary practices. “A lot of those nail salons that were yucky [before the virus] — those folks are in a bit of a trouble,” he said. “We’re extra-triple thorough,” added Michele Schlossberg, Mark Schlossberg’s wife and Paint Nail Bar cofounder. “And we communicate with the clients what we’re offering them.”

Prior to reopening, the Schlossbergs sent a video message to regular clients detailing the slew of new safety protocols and how appointments are to work in the time of COVID-19.

Nail appointments will indeed look quite different post reopening, likely no matter the salon. At Paint, the Schlossbergs have a long list of preventative measures they’ve undertaken to ensure customers feel safe getting their nails done.

“The technicians are wearing masks or shields,” said Michele Schlossberg. “The front door is locked, clients have to wait to be let in. They have to use hand sanitizer at the door and if they’re going to be using a phone during their service, it’s cleansed with alcohol. Customers have to wear a mask or we provide one — we haven’t had anyone refuse.”

Plexiglass or plastic counter dividers — also known as sneeze guards — with openings for hands to fit through are likely to be the new normal for manicure services at many nail salons.

“I ordered custom sneeze guards [early on] because I anticipated them being necessary — now I’ve heard they’re on backorder with a lot of [distributors],” said Mylkbar’s Shields. “We’re seating people at every other station and we’ve added additional HEPA air filters and UV lights.”

Still, while nail salon owners are prepping for a rush of customers, shutting down their businesses and preparing to reopen in the middle of a pandemic has not been without challenges.

“I’ve never been more stressed in my life — I would have faced permanent closures had I not gotten the PPP loan,” said Shields. “It’s definitely had a huge financial impact on both locations. Nashville has only been open since August.”

Last-minute decisions from the government regarding reopening dates have also made it challenging for nail salon owners to determine when and how they can open back up.

Both Shields and the owners of Varnish Paint Shoppe in Lexington delayed salon openings for at least a week after their state governments in Tennessee, South Carolina and Kentucky said that nail salons could open again.

“We technically could have reopened in Charleston last week, but we just didn’t feel prepared — [the state] sent us all new procedures and we’d done most of it anyway, but I didn’t feel it was enough time to properly communicate with clients,” said Shields.

For Varnish co-owners Cara Larkin and Hannah Wright, just sourcing the appropriate PPE was a challenge.

“Our usual suppliers are all out of stock — it’s not the normal day-to-day, place an order with the beauty supply and it’s there in a couple days,” said Larkin. “I’ve been scouring the Internet every night before bed — it’s like an Easter egg hunt for isopropyl alcohol.”

And then there are concerns that customers may not be willing to comply with mask protocol.

“It’s a nervous feeling, thinking that you might go to work and potentially have to have a confrontation with someone,” said Larkin.

“It’s a very delicate balance we have to maintain,” added Wright, “between still existing as service providers that allow our clients to come to our salons and treat themselves and also maintain that sanitation level to protect our clients.”