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Sonoma County barbershops, salons ready for reopening after three-month shutdown

Chris Zapalski, who has been cutting hair in Sonoma County for more than 40 years, can’t wait to pick up his scissors and get back to work Saturday morning, the end of a shutdown imposed three months ago to combat the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

The owner of Christo’s Salon, a sleek shop in Santa Rosa’s Montgomery Village, Zapalski hasn’t been open for business since March 17, when the county stay-at-home order and closure of nonessential businesses was issued.

The shutdown delivered a financial wallop.

“Brutally painful,” Zapalski said of the blow to the business he started just three years ago. “I’m in a pretty serious financial hole.”

With a daylong schedule of customers Saturday and into next week, Zapalski, an affable conversationalist, is keen on restoring his revenue and renewing his relationships with clientele and co-workers. “We normally talk all day long,” he said.

The reopening of hair salons and barbershops this weekend - along with indoor restaurant dining and church services and shopping at malls - comes as public health officials think the local viral curve has sufficiently flattened in a pandemic that has infected more than 600 county residents and resulted in four deaths.

Some salon owners and their customers are approaching the reopening with a wait-and-see approach.

Zapalski shared that some of this clients “are still too nervous to come back.”

Steve DuBois, who operates an old-fashioned single-chair Healdsburg barbershop with a red, white and blue barber’s pole out front, expects business to pick up quickly.

“It’ll be great,” he said, allowing he’ll have to take extra time to clean thoroughly between customers.

DuBois, who specializes in cutting hair for men, boys and women with short hair, also thinks there may be a shift in styles.

“After the quarantine there’s going to be a lot of long hair,” he said.

Unemployment insurance and a Small Business Administration loan helped him through the idle weeks as sole proprietor of the Plaza Barber, which has had three owners, counting DuBois, in the last three decades.

But it won’t be business as usual, as barbershop and salon operators intend to maintain the social distancing ordered by health officials to prevent the disease from spreading.

Zapalski plans to reopen with four stations, half as many as he had before, allowing 12 feet between chairs “so we can make our clients feel comfortable.”

DuBois said he will schedule appointments to avoid a need for unrelated customers to wait in the bank of five chairs requisitioned for that purpose from San Francisco’s former Candlestick Park. They are set beneath a wall lined with photographs of Bay Area professional athletes.

Barbershops and hair salons are in a Sonoma County economic sector that lost 1,800 workers in April, a 26% loss, larger than most sectors outside the tourism industry, according to the latest state jobs report. Overall, the county shed 47,800 jobs in April, the first month that measured the shutdown’s full impact on employment.

And there may not be a rush by people to get the hair on their heads looking presentable again.

“Hell no,” Beto Sandoval of Santa Rosa said. “A haircut is the last thing I’m worried about at this time.”

Sandoval, 37, said he thinks authorities have bungled management of the coronavirus crisis and that opening up barbershops is “not an essential action that needs to happen at this time.”

A laboratory worker, Sandoval said he worries about bringing COVID-19 home and infecting his family.

His hair, meanwhile, has grown 4 inches too long all around. “It’s wild, man,” he said.

Maureen Shea of Sebastopol said it has been four months since her chin-length brownish-gray locks were cut. She trimmed her bangs a couple of weeks ago and is two months overdue for a seat in a salon.

“I’ll be waiting another two to three weeks to see what happens to the curve,” said Shea, 69.

Nor are salon owners unanimous in resuming their trade this weekend.

“I’m not in any rush,” said Jesy Diaz, co-owner with her husband of Petaluma Hair Company, who plans to reopen June 15.

Surmising that the recent wave of protests may accelerate coronavirus infection, Diaz is concerned her shop could become a “catalyst” for spreading the disease. “There’s only so much we can do to social distance and prevent infection,” she said.

Dr. Sundari Mase, the county health officer, warned this week that people participating in demonstrations may be putting themselves at greater risk of infection.

Diaz and other operators, including Zapalski, think it may take time before most of their customers are ready to return. Three of his nine cosmetologists are not coming back to work, he said.

But some folks, tired of their shaggy appearance, are ready for trimming, including two who said they have appointments Saturday at Christo’s Salon.

“I’m eager to get back in,” said Tom Boylan of Windsor, a friend and customer of Zapalski for a dozen years. “We talk about all sorts of stuff.”

Boylan, 69, said he was two weeks overdue for a haircut when the shutdown hit and now has hair, normally trimmed to the top of his ears, covering them instead.

When he was in the music business in the 1970s, Boylan said he wore long hair, but now, as owner of a marketing agency and a Rotary Club member, he prefers a different look.

Boylan said he successfully applied auburn dye to the hair of his wife, Melody Montero, who works in real estate. “She’s happy with it,” he said. “She volunteered to cut my hair. I said absolutely not.”

Vern Shipley, 73, of Santa Rosa said he expects to be the first person in Zapalski’s chair Saturday morning.

“Desperately needed, especially the eyebrows which resemble caterpillars” he said in an email. “I look like one of those old Soviet prime ministers during the Cold War.”

Acknowledging that some risk is involved, Shipley said: “Hope I’m not playing Russian roulette here and my epitaph doesn’t read: Because of a haircut. R.I.P.”

Suzanne Grant of Rohnert Park expressed no qualms.

“I won’t say that I’m getting uber shaggy, but the other day a lion made a pass at me,” she said in an email. “Definitely heading for the hairdresser next week.”

Melany Collett, who lives in one of the first homes rebuilt in Santa Rosa’s wildfire-ravaged Coffey Park, recently tried haircutting in the garage on her son, Markus Wright, 12, and her daughter’s boyfriend, Cosmo Sutcliffe, 24.

Sutcliffe, who had shoulder-length hair, got a mullet, then a rattail and finally opted to have his head shaved, she said. Wright, who has coarse, curly hair, went straight for the shaved look.

“It’s surprising what you can do yourself when it’s your only option,” Collett said. But Markus’ next haircut will be done by a professional.

Collett, 49, said she personally is “counting the days when I don’t have to hide my feet.” She’s not wearing sandals because her painted toenails are “not a pretty sight” and in need of a pedicure.

Zapalski, who expects to resume his chosen trade seven days a week, contemplated what Saturday means to him.

“Oh my gosh,” he said with a sigh. “I’ve never gone this long without cutting hair.”

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