ST. LOUIS — On May 18, many businesses in St. Louis and St. Louis County will be able to open their doors for the first time in more than a month. And many shop owners said they are eager to get back to work.
However, hundreds of business owners in Missouri are pushing for their industry to fall into a later phase of the reopening process, including three hairstylists in St. Louis.
Caitlin Tyczka owns Homegrown Hair Co. in the Tower Grove South neighborhood. Kristina Cheeseman and Caitlin Ford are both stylists who operate their own businesses out of Chop Shop East in The Grove. All three women said they think May 18 is too early to open hair salons.
"Starting that effort off with opening up salons is like saying you're starting a diet by eating a piece of chocolate cake," Ford said. "There's no way for us to socially distance and I just don't see any reason why they shouldn't push us to a little bit later. See what the businesses that are capable of socially distancing, how they fare, first and where the numbers go first. Then, go to hairstylists."
Ford and Cheeseman moderate a Facebook group made up of other stylists, tattoo artists, massage therapists and aestheticians across Missouri who want a reopening date. There are more than 400 members.
Tyczka said the main concerns include a lack of guidance for operation and potentially not having enough personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies to protect staff and clients.
"It's really not about even attaining it right now, which is already difficult, but maintaining it going forward," Ford said.
Tyczka said, additionally, the nature of their business makes it difficult to meet the guidelines that exist.
"Hairstylists are the ones that have been put in charge of creating our own specific guidelines, and we are not equipped to that," Tyczka said. "We're using the knowledge that we have, but we need this done by people that have researched it very thoroughly. We shouldn't be the ones creating our own guidelines.
On Monday, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said businesses, like hair salons, will need to supply PPE for staff members and maintain proper cleanliness.
Hours after Krewson's briefing, the city and county released more specific guidelines for businesses that are reopening to follow. The guidelines included a five-page section dedicated to "personal services" like hair salons.
The guidelines include instructions about limiting clients, keeping employees as distant as possible, screening employees daily for symptoms, checking in with clients before appointments to make sure they aren't showing symptoms and assistance available for employees who take time off if they are showing symptoms.
While the guidelines are more specific, the stylists say they work in one of the few professions that directly contradicts social distancing.
"What our leaders are failing to recognize is that we share direct airspace with our clients, and we are with our clients between 30 minutes to three hours each time," Cheeseman said. "We touch these people."
All three women acknowledge that the simple solution to their concerns appears to be to just remain closed if that makes them feel more comfortable. And they said they don't plan to re-open until June 1st -- at the earliest. However, they are concerned that choosing not to take a green light to reopen will impact their ability to receive financial assistance.
"In our industry, if you don't work, you don't get paid," Cheeseman said. "We have been offered pandemic assistance. However, there have been some glitches and many of us have not been paid. If we don't open up, we risk losing more of that funding through the CARES Act. That puts people in a really tough space. They have to choose between their health or financial stability, and that's really hard to ask people to do."
All three stylists said they have already struggled to receive unemployment benefits consistently.
Tyczka said she spent nearly $1,000 purchasing supplies necessary to reopen for her clients and staff when they're ready. She said her hope is that hairstylists and other workers in the industry will be guaranteed a supply of PPE for a sustainable amount of time as well as more specific guidelines that can better ensure safety.
In the meantime, all three stylists said they plan to watch how the case numbers move, as the city and county begin to reopen, to better evaluate their opening dates.
"What does happen if there is a spike in cases?" Tyczka asked. "I really don't want my team to be a sort of health, social experiment."