Sonoma County barbers and salons now offering outdoor haircuts to stay open
Waiting for her hair appointment on a recent warm afternoon in Sebastopol, Yael Raff Peskin sat beneath the shade of a large oak tree in an area normally reserved for outdoor events at The Barlow shopping and entertainment mecca.
When it was time for her haircut, she took a seat in a salon chair under a striped umbrella. A masked stylist went to work in front of a framed mirror set atop a wooden art easel.
Peskin also wore a face covering and was asked to prewash her own hair before arriving. Despite the unusualness, she was glad to get a trim at Reframe Hair Gallery’s improvised outdoor salon.
“I loved it,” Peskin said. “I normally spend my time outside these days, so it’s going to be hard to go back inside.”
Since Gov. Gavin Newsom last month halted indoor cosmetology among other businesses in most counties, including Sonoma, as part of an effort to contain the coronavirus, some local barbers and hair stylists have begun moving outdoors to do their personal services work.
A random check around the area found many barbershops and hair salons don’t appear to be offering outdoor haircuts. But those that are say they’re as busy as ever, with reservations booked weeks in advance. Some are grateful to be able to operate and earn an income, while others are frustrated that being forced to work outside makes it difficult to do their jobs.
“This is a life-threatening disease and we need to adapt,” said Nevuah Tova, owner of Reframe Hair Gallery that temporarily moved from its Barlow storefront to the commercial district’s outdoor event space. “It’s a little rough; we’re kind of glamping out here, but I don’t think we should be working inside.”
Tova has invested around $5,000 on umbrellas, mirrors, waiting chairs and extra sanitizing equipment, and is considering buying space heaters.
She makes sure to follow all state reopening guidelines for hair salons and barbershops, including wearing face coverings, maintaining at least 6 feet of distance between clients and wiping down chairs after haircuts.
In addition, salons aren’t allowed to do shampooing, coloring, straightening or other chemical hair services.
To ensure proper physical distancing, Tova’s salon only can service half as many clients at once. That makes it a challenge to dig out of the financial hole her business is in as a result of the monthslong public health emergency that began in mid-March. But Tova said meeting the pent-up demand for haircuts is a start toward making up the financial setback.
“It’s busy and we’ve only been open a week and a half, and I feel like word hasn’t fully gotten out yet,” she said.
Like Tova, Shawn McConlogue, owner of the Barber Shop near downtown Santa Rosa, is mostly booked for haircuts for the next two weeks.
Even so, he’s not thrilled to be cutting hair on the sidewalk outside his shop on Montgomery Street.
“I’ve got my clients baking in the sun and wind blowing everything around,” he said. “It’s a crazy way to run a business.”
McConlogue and some other stylists think it’s unfair retailers are allowed to keep stores open, while barbershops and salons must resort to setting up outside in the elements.
Dr. John Swartzberg, a professor of infectious diseases at UC Berkeley, said the coronavirus is far more likely to spread indoors when people can’t keep enough distance apart. For that reason, he said indoor services at personal care service businesses should remain closed until the pandemic is more under control. But he cautioned that outdoor haircuts aren’t entirely safe.
“That brings people into very close proximity for a very long period of time, and that creates some degree of risk,” he said.
Jan Schwartz, an owner of the Cutting Edge in Sebastopol, reopened in the parking lot behind her salon as soon as she was allowed to almost four weeks ago.
She only has space for two stylists and is feeling the impact of not being able to provide her more lucrative hair coloring and straightening services.
Wind gusts often kick up in the afternoon, and she had to erect a makeshift windbreak out of wood.
Still, she’s prepared to keep adapting and plans to continue operating outside for weeks or months longer if she has to because of public health rules.
“It’s limiting, but we’re grateful to have it,” Schwartz said. “That’s for sure.”
You can reach Staff Writer Ethan Varian at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-5412. On Twitter @ethanvarian