SALONS IN SURVIVAL MODE

Byline: Andrea M. Grossman

NEW YORK — A flurry of haircuts and highlights — and the need to reduce stress — is keeping the $46.7 billion U.S. salon service and retail industry afloat at a time when other industries are floundering due to the horrific attacks of Sept. 11.
“It was kind of bizarre,” said Rick Haylor, manager of the John Frieda salon at 797 Madison Avenue. “But by the next week, maybe because of the message sent out by [Mayor Rudolph] Giuliani, we had a tremendous response, and business was back to normal.”
Even downtown salons, those located closer to Ground Zero, have rebounded.
Jason Croy of the Jason Croy salon on 632 Hudson in the West Village noted people “are trying to create an optimistic future for themselves.”
While Haylor and Croy offer thoughtful suggestions at to why salons are faring better than other industries — last month, retail sales dropped 2.4 percent, according to the Department of Commerce — some believe the rush to salons shows consumers want to feel good about themselves and reduce stress during this time of crisis.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Dr. Nancy Needell, a psychiatrist who works at the Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center on Wards Island. “I think the idea of grooming and taking care of oneself can reduce stress levels.”
Needell cited the conclusions drawn from research done by Robert M. Sapolsky, a professor of biological sciences and neuroscience at Stanford University, which shows that animals that form “grooming circles” — clusters where animals groom each other — have much lower stress hormones than those that don’t.
“To a certain extent, the salon serves as [a grooming circle.] It’s also a place where people can relax and do something for themselves and not be alone.”
Needell, who also serves on the public affairs committee for the New York County district branch of the American Psychiatric Association, admits that she has sought comfort in the salon, receiving more than her usual dose of beauty treatments since Sept. 11.
In Manhattan, however, the salon industry is losing millions of dollars due to the horrific attacks and subsequent terrorist threats, as well as those that people imagine could be coming.
The upscale Warren-Tricomi salon, located at 16 West 57th Street, is off $100,000. Co-owner Edward Tricomi closed the doors on his salons — two in Manhattan, one on Long Island and one in Connecticut — on Sept. 11 and 12. Business remains down 30 percent.
Elizabeth Arden’s salon and spa business also was hurt, especially in New York and Washington, where salons realized a 25 percent drop in business the week of Sept. 11, according to Kelly Weber, senior vice president of marketing for Elizabeth Arden Inc. Weber said that during the week of Sept. 17, business was “still slow, off by 10 to 15 percent.” The redemption of gift certificates has also slowed down, Weber noted.
Frederic Fekkai located at 15 East 57th Street, “has noticed modest decreases in customer traffic,” said Lori Perella, general manager and senior vice president of Frederic Fekkai & Co.
But Warren Tricomi, Elizabeth Arden and Frederic Fekkai are high-profile salons that rely on tourism for a good portion of customer traffic. Tricomi admits 10 to 15 percent fewer tourists now fill his salon chairs.
Locals, however, are finding that grooming can create a little joy by appearing to change the past.
“A customer may feel guilty buying herself a Chanel bag at a time like this,” said Kim Lepine, owner of Kim Lepine salon at 667 Madison Avenue. “But coming into the salon allows her to do something that makes her feel and look good. She also gets that human touch a retail business simply cannot fulfill.”
Since Sept. 11, Lepine’s business has been erratic, at a time when her salon is usually “hustling and bustling.” She’s grateful, though, as she recognizes “things could be worse.”
Stephane Bragoni, manager and hairstylist of Jacques Dessange salon on 505 Park Avenue, said business is better now compared with the same period last year. He attributes the rise in business to several factors, including increased advertising by Jacques Dessange.
“President Bush asked us to participate for the economy, so we have given 20 percent off for new customers,” Bragoni said.
Some salons are still experiencing the same erratic client patterns since the days following Sept. 11.
“Thursday [Sept. 13], we were fully booked,” Bragoni at Jacques Dessange said, “but that weekend, we were very slow.”
Croy’s salon was busy that Thursday, but also slow that weekend. “I think people wanted to get out of town,” Croy said.
Rodney Cutler, co-owner of Arrojo Cutler at 115 East 57th Street, believes customers are coming into his salon based on their emotions, which can be influenced by that day’s news.
The mood and atmosphere at salons has also been altered.
At Jacques Dessange, some customers are a bit more somber, Bragoni admits. “We are not a friend, but we know our customer close enough to listen to them+and they are not happy.”
Weber from Arden said she has noticed that “regular clients seem anxious to get back to their normal routines. It seems customers want to reconnect with the [stylists and clients] they know.”
Tricomi has specifically instructed his staff to veer conversations from the World Trade Center attacks to other topics. “I’ve instructed staff to be sensitive, but not to dwell too much on the Trade Center. I want to bring back the joy.”
At Arrojo Cutler, the mood has lifted, as has the volume on the salon’s sound system. “I made a conscious decision to give people a place where they can escape a little. It’s been quite nice to escape CNN for an hour.”
One phenomenon some salon owners said has been occurring is their customers’ willingness to try new hairstyles in an attempt to erase the past.
“Everybody felt for a long time that they should act a certain way, and now it is like, ‘Roll up your sleeves, make it a bit shorter, chop it up — I want to feel alive again!”‘ said Cutler.
Tricomi sums up this new trend. “What has happened has trickled down into everything we do, in the oddest ways,” he said.

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