With the state on track to move into Phase 3 of the Restore Illinois COVID-19 recovery plan, salons, spas and barbershops will be free to reopen with restrictions beginning this Friday.
After more than two months of being closed to the public, owners know their clients are eager for some personal care and are working out plans to keep staff and customers safe.
“We miss our guests, and they miss us," said Laura Waller, owner of Reflections Hair Studio in Crystal Lake. "We are not only their hairstylists but friends as well. It has been heartbreaking not being able to see everyone on a regular basis."
Reflections Hair Studio is planning to open June 1 and already has appointments scheduled, according to Waller. The studio will be offering its regular hair services as well as waxing services that can be done around a face mask.
Other salons, such as Crystal Lake's Blush Salon & Spa, have been hesitant to begin scheduling appointments.
The salon's co-owner, Cindy Hitzeman, said she is waiting for the green light from Gov. JB Pritzker before she will begin scheduling clients.
"I am a little bit worried that everyone is going to try to get in that first week or two and it’s going to be impossible," Hitzeman said. "I feel like every salon is going to be in that same boat."
Slim's Barbershop in downtown Crystal Lake will reopen June 1, said Kevin Slimko, the shop's owner.
"For whatever reason, barbershops and salons are kind of like the forefront of the complaints of people that want the economy to open," Slimko said. "One of the first things that people talk about is haircuts, which I think is a little odd but also reassuring I guess."
Over in Downers Grove, Gina Winkelman, owner of Main Street Barber Shop, said her phone has been burning up with texts and direct messages from people itching for a cut. She is hoping to open on Friday.
"I think it will be crazy when we reopen," Winkelman said. "We really missed it. We want to accommodate our clients that have been waiting for so long."
In Batavia, Tyler Anderson, co-owner of Beardsgaard Barbers, said he is anxious to see his customers and employees again. He and his wife and co-owner, Natalie Anderson, plan to reopen June 1.
"I do miss the shop a lot," he said. "I miss the staff and the clients and the general atmosphere and energy of being in the barbershop. Doing as much as we can to make this work right is the most important thing."
While Beardsgaard Barbers specializes in crafting beards, the shop will only be able to do haircuts at this time because of guidelines from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity that customers should wear face coverings over their nose and mouth. Exceptions can be made for people with medical conditions or disabilities that prevent them from safely wearing a face covering.
The same will apply to beard and mustache services at Slim's Barbershop for the time being, Slimko said.
For Beardsley's Barber Shop in St. Charles, the past week has been particularly busy. Not only is the shop anticipating the reopening, it is scheduled to open a second location across the street in June. The lease is up in the current location in July.
"We have seven barbers; we'll have three barbers at the original location and four at the new location," said Derek Swann, owner of Beardsley's.
Pat Santeler, owner of Hair Designers in Harvard, will be the only one working at her salon to reduce the amount of people in the building. Santeler said she is ready to open her doors once Pritzker gives the go ahead.
COVID-19 precautions: a new normal for barbershops and salons
Illinois DCEO guidelines for reopening personal care services represent a new normal for salons and barbershops where connecting with customers must take a backseat to preventing the spread of COVID-19.
According to Waller, Reflections Hair Studio in Crystal Lake “will be taking every precaution stated by the CDC and then some."
“We have disposable masks, disposable capes, disposable aprons, disposable foot covers, disposable gloves and hand sanitizer at every station," Waller wrote. "All stylists have a face shield as well."
Blush Salon & Spa ordered sneeze guards for their front desk and each of their nail stations. Hitzeman said she hopes to resume nail services soon but was unsure when they will be able to do so.
Some safety guidelines will be consistent across regional salons and barbershops. Staff and clients must wear masks at all times, only a limited number of people will be allowed in at once and staff will sanitize surfaces and tools after each client.
At Reflections Hair Studio, stylists will be servicing only one guest at a time.
Hair Designers will have a one-person-in, one-person-out policy, Santeler said. No magazines will be offered, she said.
Slimko of Slim's Barbershop plans to take social distancing one step further by using ceiling-to-floor plastic sheeting to separate his three barber's chairs.
"Also, we normally do appointments based on 20 minutes; we will be doing 30 minute appointments so that the chairs can be sprayed down and sit for 10 minutes to disinfect," Slimko said.
According to DCEO guidelines, temperature checks and medical surveys should become the norm for salons and appointments should be scheduled ahead of time to avoid overcrowding.
Waller's clients are instructed to text or call the salon when they have arrived so that a staff member can meet them outside to take their temperature with a contactless thermometer.
"After confirmation of normal temperature, guests will be let in and directed to the restroom to wash their hands and then straight to their stylist’s suite," according to Waller.
At Beardgaard Barbers, customers also will be surveyed before entering the shop and will have their temperature taken upon entering. Hand-washing also will be required.
Beardgaard co-owner Natalie Anderson has a weakened immune system and lost one of her relatives to COVID-19. She understands the need for all the precautions better than most.
"Masks are required at all times," Natalie Anderson said. "We're 2 feet from people's heads. In some other businesses, they may be optional, but they are absolutely not at our shop."
Beardgaard employees will be wearing face shields and lab coats.
At Dolce Vita in Sycamore, guests will have curbside check-in and have their temperatures taken, and traditional capes will be replaced with disposable capes for one-time use. Weather permitting, Dolce Vita may do curbside service, according to a post on the company's Facebook page.
At Beardsley's Barbershop, Swann said he has added an additional 10 minutes per appointment to allow more time for the flow of traffic. Appointments must be made online.
Chairs will be sprayed down after each haircut, each customer will get a new cloth cape, and combs, shears and blades will be disinfected and sterilized.
"Nothing that was touching the previous customer will touch the next customer," Swann said.
Each of Swann's barbers must pass a barbicide certification course before returning to work. Swann also is hiring an extra employee who will serve as another set of eyes and will spray down surfaces.
For now, Beardsley's will not be able to offer beard trims either.
"I know it is going to cost us, as well as adding more time for an appointment, and less customers through the door will affect us financially," Swann said. "However, if this is the new norm, it is vital that we ensure everybody's safety, regardless of cost."
Main Street Barbershop will keep under the 10-person limit with its four barbers and four customers, 6 feet apart. The shop has worked with online appointments for over a year and will continue to do so.
Walk-ins will be taken outside with an iPad to reschedule appointments for later that day. Winkelman is asking that clients come alone.
Normal for Winkelman is a highly maintained, sanitized shop with a floor that's always "spic and span." Winkelman has a whole bunch of cleaning supplies stored away in her garage, waiting for the green light to open May 29.
"A traditional barber shop should be highly sanitized, and mine has always been," Winkelman said. "We're putting more into it, making clients safe."
All of these extra cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment have added to the financial burden that salons have been shouldering since closing their doors more than two months ago, Waller said.
“The shutdown has caused a lot of stress and financial hardships for us, as many of us have had no income since the shutdown,” she said in message to Shaw Media Illinois.
The financial stress of COVID-19 shutdowns has been "just awful" for Hair Designers, Santeler said.
"We were not lucky enough to have a landlord that told us not to pay rent, so we are still having to pay all of those things," Hitzeman said of Blush Salon & Spa. "All of our girls are on unemployment, which has been a Godsend. ... Financially, our salon is fine unless this goes on for another five months."
Slimko said his shop was able to maintain some of its revenue through online sales of hats and comedic T-shirts.
"The first couple weeks, there was a ton of traffic on the store, and ever since then it’s been steady, but it’s not something we could sustain our living on," he said.
Slimko's website got a lot of attention after he posted a YouTube video of himself poking fun at people working from home during the pandemic.
Main Street Barbershop has been cutting hair since 2008. With all of these new restrictions, Winkelman said she hopes the barbershop experience doesn't change too much. Her brother Peter, one of the shop's four barbers, has been cutting hair for 45 years.
"Part of the barbershop experience is we're not going to stop talking to them, telling them stories," Winkelman said.
"The thing is people come to the shop, it's a fun place to come. I always have a great movie playing, tell stories, laugh – it's a great environment," she said. "I don't want this to change the vibe. I'm going to try to keep this as normal as possible."