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Scenes from Georgia’s cautious reopening: Lines start early for haircuts

The first phase of Gov. Brian Kemp’s plan to reopen Georgia during the coronavirus pandemic included haircut shops and gyms, though not all chose to open their doors. Barber and owner of Chris Edwards opened his shop to a line of customers Friday morning. (Video by John Spinks)

They needed a trim, and couldn’t wait any longer. For the the first time in weeks, some Metro Atlanta hair salons and barbershops reopened Friday. And the lines started early.

The first phase of Gov. Brian Kemp’s plan to reopen Georgia during the coronavirus pandemic included haircut shops and gyms, though not all chose to open their doors.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Everything you need to know about the coronavirus

RELATED: Businesses confront legal issues upon reopening amid COVID-19 concerns

At Peachtree Battle Barber Shop in Buckhead, customers waited in line shortly after 7 a.m., Channel 2 Action News reported. Matt Maddox was one of those customers later Friday morning.

“I certainly don’t want to spread it to anyone so I’ve got a mask, but I’m not really concerned,” Maddox said. “If you’re cutting hair or you’re a waiter, you haven’t been working, so it helps get the economy started again.”

‘We need our clients’

At Studio 151 in Dallas, the first appointment was at 6:30 a.m., according to the salon’s owner. A sign on the door spelled out salon protocols, including those required by the state and additional measures to keep employees and customers safe.

Stephen Richardson’s salon in Dallas started losing business the week of March 10 as the coronavirus moved into Georgia. The following week was even slower and on March 26, he was ordered to shut down completely.

“I went from 100% to zero,” Richardson said.

In order to reopen, Richardson said he had to comply with a 14-page list of safety guidelines. And he added a few more of his own.

Stephen Richardson looks out for first customer of the day at Studio 151, Friday, April 24, 2020 in Dallas, Ga. Studio 151 is one of many businesses allowed to reopen after Gov. Kemp announced certain facilities can reopen to relieve strain on Georgia's economy.  BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL
Stephen Richardson looks out for first customer of the day at Studio 151, Friday, April 24, 2020 in Dallas, Ga. Studio 151 is one of many businesses allowed to reopen after Gov. Kemp announced certain facilities can reopen to relieve strain on Georgia's economy. BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL

Credit: Branden Camp

Credit: Branden Camp

“We have our very own concerns, but we need our clients,” he said.

He can only work with one customer at a time, and there are strict protocols in place, including temperature checks at the door. Richardson also tossed out all of the magazines he normally keeps for clients.

And by noon Friday, Richardson and another stylist were still seeing a steady stream of customers, many saying how grateful they were for the safety measures.

“People are pretty much getting in and getting out,” he said. “I give the clients credit. Every client that has shown up has had a mask.”

For Richardson, the extra measures are part of adapting to the “new” normal, he says. But he realizes not everyone will be ready to return for a haircut just yet.

“For those of y’all that are concerned, don’t come,” Richardson said.

‘Not concerned at all’

As some metro Atlanta residents continued contemplating whether they would risk seeing their hairstylist or barber, Angi Warner wasn’t worried.

The Riverdale resident had been regularly visiting her College Park hair salon, HairRox, every two weeks before the pandemic hit and said her stylist, Dana, was an avid cleaner before the shelter-in-place orders and social distancing recommendations were issued.

“She picked up the pace before all of this started happening,” Warner said. “I was not at all concerned about sanitary conditions.”

Warner’s hairdresser emailed clients and informed them that she would only accept them one at a time so that she and only one client were in the hair salon at a time.

“She had her mask and gloves on and did my hair,” Warner said, adding she went in for a wash, trim and style. “I was in and out in an hour. Easy peasy.”

While some have criticized those for going out and getting hair services on, Warner, 48, urged people to use their best judgement.

“If I had not known Dana and the type of service she provided, and business she ran, I probably would be leery, too,” she said “I wouldn’t try someone for the first time today.”

— Raisa Habersham

Busy day at Marietta salon and spa

At Three-13 Salon, Spa & Boutique in Marietta, the popular business has had 50 clients come in since the Canton Road business opened at 8 a.m. Friday, said Managing Partner Lester Crowell Jr. About 60 percent of its roughly 80 employees have signed on to work this weekend, and the rest will return Monday when the business returns to normal hours of operation.

“I figured we would do about 120 (guests) today,” Crowell said, adding they normally have about 250 clients on Fridays and about 350 on Saturdays.

Clients as well as employees are required to wear masks while inside the salon. Anyone who comes in for services will have their temperatures checked at the door. They will then be asked if they’ve had a cough, fever, been around anyone experiencing these symptoms for the past 14 days and if they are living with anyone who is sick or quarantined. If they answer yes to any of those questions, they will be asked to reschedule their appointment. Each guest will also be given hand sanitizer when they enter the salon or spa areas.

Appointments have been spaced out to allow one guest per employee and for proper sanitizing of tools and equipment between clients. Along with masks, employees will also wear masks and gloves.

Three-13 has also limited the number of clients who will be inside while it’s open for business. Customers can also wait outside the building in one of the chairs that have been spaced six feet apart, or they can wait in their vehicles and be alerted via text message when it’s time for their appointment.

Christina Herrera, director of operations at Three-13, said clients have told her that they are satisfied with the steps they have taken to ensure customer and staff safety.

“One client said they feel more comfortable being in here than being in grocery store,” she said. “It felt really good to hear our clients giving that feedback.”

— Kristal Dixon

Time for a tattoo?

As soon as Gabriel Krull heard about Kemp's recent order, he decided his tattoo shop Slangin Ink would be open for business on Friday.

"I have bills to pay, I have a family to feed," said Krull, the owner of the Chamblee parlor. "This is my career."

He said the demand was high while Slangin Ink was closed, and it was "pretty much booked" on Friday. The tattoo shop is spacing out appointments so they do not overlap, sanitizing equipment and making sure staff wear masks and gloves. Krull said he was aware of the risk of restarting business during the pandemic, but stressed that his shop is as sanitary as a dentist's office.

"I have to worry about the rent next month," he said.

— J.D. Capelouto

Some customers have to wait

In Gate City Tattoo in East Atlanta, owner James Cooper was working on his artwork inside his still-closed shop. He said he plans to stick to his plan to open May 1, after the original stay-at-home order expires. Cooper said he has customers eager to come in.

"We have appointments booked out for when we reopen, but no sooner,” he said.

Many gyms stay closed

But despite the salons and shops reopening, it wasn't entirely business as normal. Social distancing was still in place, along with numerous safety measures, including masks for the employees.

Not all businesses that could open did, including several gyms.

 

In a note to members, LA Fitness said the time wasn’t right to open the doors.

“As soon as we see a clearer indication that the time is right, we will notify you of our plans to reopen,” LA Fitness told members.

Planet Fitness locations and local YMCA branches also remained closed.

Sign a waiver

If you’ve got an appointment with one of Atlanta’s Van Michael salons, be prepared to sign a liability waiver.

“While we are taking your safety and that of our staff very serious, by employing new safety and sanitation initiatives, we cannot guarantee that any of these measure will protect you from contracting COVID-19,” the waiver states.

Before a cut or color, customers must also agree in the waiver they will not sue the salon if they contract the coronavirus.

Protesters drive past the Governor's Mansion carrying signs and honking horns Friday. (Photo: Greg Bluestein/AJC)
Protesters drive past the Governor's Mansion carrying signs and honking horns Friday. (Photo: Greg Bluestein/AJC)

Protesting reopening

Not everyone was on board with Kemp’s decision to begin opening businesses, with opponents saying it is too soon.

Outside the Governor’s Mansion, a caravan of demonstrators paraded back and forth along West Paces Ferry, waving signs that read “Georgia Doesn’t Have Lives to Spare” and “You First” as a cacophony of horns sounded.

—  Greg Bluestein

‘It’s good to be back’

Alfonso Walker owns BarberShop in Atlanta off I-85. He was ambivalent about reopening - and so were many of his regular customers. Only a handful of customers showed up by lunchtime.

Still, he’s glad he reopened.

“It felt like the right moment. My customers trust I’m going to take every precaution. I’m wearing a mask and gloves,” he said.

Walker quibbled a bit with Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to reopen this quickly, but he said he was “ready.”

“I couldn’t deplete all my savings. I needed to get back there and keep it going,” he said. “It’s good to be back.”

—  Greg Bluestein

Linda Nguyen, who works at Lush Nail Bar, holds a customer consent form and a sheet detailing requirements to be inside the shop for service. Owner Thomas Vu stands to the right. (Photo Adrianne Murchison)
Linda Nguyen, who works at Lush Nail Bar, holds a customer consent form and a sheet detailing requirements to be inside the shop for service. Owner Thomas Vu stands to the right. (Photo Adrianne Murchison)

One customer at a time

In Sandy Springs, two salons, Lush Nail Bar and Nail Studio, opened but kept their doors locked to limit the number of customers who came in.

A sign in the window at Lush Nail Bar said “Due to Georgia restrictions we will be open for appointment only.” Customers were asked to call or make an appointment online. They were also asked to sign a consent form for service and to confirm that they did not have a list of symptoms ranging from a fever or dry cough to a loss of a sense of taste and smell. The form inquired about travel inside and outside the U.S.

After greeting her regular customer, Friday, Linda Nguyen, who works at Lush Nail Bar, asked the customer to wash her hands before being seated.

“We’re being very cautious and taking everything one client at a time,” said owner Thomas Vu.

— Adrianne Murchison

Athens, Georgia  - Wearing a mask, Tony Brown, barber at Brown's Barber Shop, uses a disinfectant wipe to sanitize his chair after servicing a client at the shop in downtown Athens, Friday, April 24, 2020. The family owned small business reopened on Friday, after receiving clearance from Gov. Brian Kemp.  (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Athens, Georgia - Wearing a mask, Tony Brown, barber at Brown's Barber Shop, uses a disinfectant wipe to sanitize his chair after servicing a client at the shop in downtown Athens, Friday, April 24, 2020. The family owned small business reopened on Friday, after receiving clearance from Gov. Brian Kemp. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

The scene in Athens

In downtown Athens, the normally busy streets were nearly vacant at midday Friday as many beauty shops and restaurants remained closed. Some shops had voicemail messages asking customers to look on their websites for updates concerning when they would reopen.

Brown’s Barbershop, one of the few shops open Friday, had customers in all six chairs. Business, though, was not back to normal. The owners practiced social distancing by keeping the beige chairs several feet away for each waiting customer. Customers were encouraged to wear masks while they waited or to wait outside. The barbers wore masks and wiped their chairs after each customer received a haircut.

“We’re going to follow all the guidelines,” said Tony Brown, one of the barbers.

The owners said they received some complaints on social media about reopening. They did not understand the criticism. They noted liquor stores and fast food restaurants have remained open. They said they’ve had several people approach them in recent weeks saying they need a haircut.

Brown’s, a family owned business, has operated for about 70 years. Many of its customers are University of Georgia students. Others are longtime residents, like Dala Fambrough, 72, who walked to the shop from his nearby home Friday. He held court, talking about the many places that have remained closed, such as churches.

“I never thought that was going to happen,” said Fambrough, wearing a yellow mask as he held his black cane.

Brown said he’s learned to keep a savings through the pandemic. He wondered what will happen if there is a fall crisis, as some medical experts have predicted.

“Hopefully it will get better soon,” he said.

— Eric Stirgus

‘I have to survive’

Linda Sang, a manicurist at M&B Nail Studio in Clayton County, said Friday the business was open, but was limiting the number of customers in the store to no more than one person at a time. The nail salon also required customers to wear face masks and thoroughly wash their hands in front of workers.

After each customer, the salon cleans the store, including wiping down surfaces and spraying, to provide a safe environment for staff and customers, she said.

“We will only have four or five appointments then we will go home,” she said, adding that the customers she has seen are regulars with whom she has a relationship.

She said she is scared but needs to work to earn an income.

“I need to pay bills, you know,” she said. “I have to survive.”

— Leon Stafford

— Please return to ajc.com for updates.

— Staff writers John Spink contributed to this report.