Fernando Martínez/Courtesy El Diario

Salon owners like Dominican-born Lily Feliz have had to invest in special safety equipment.

Translated and condensed by Carlos Rodríguez Martorell

Tamhara Then is an Asian entrepreneur who owns a beauty salon in Astoria, Queens, which she shares with a nail spa. The relatively small space has eight manicure and pedicure stations for the same number of workers, all of whom are Latino. Before the pandemic, this was a booming business. Now, with social distancing rules, its recovery prospects are hardly optimistic.

After being closed for more than three months due to the measures imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus, everything looks different for salons in the Big Apple. On Monday, these businesses welcomed customers again as part of Phase 3 of the city’s reopening.

“I do not think that the business is going to be profitable with the new norms,” said Then. “I can only have three stations operating at a time in order to respect the six-foot social distancing rule. That means that I will have to rotate the staff, so not everyone will be able to go back to work on Monday. They will have to work fewer hours. When I do the math, I see that the business will not be profitable for them or for me under these conditions.”

Ecuadoran entrepreneur Lourdes Salazar, who owns Tu S´tilo Salon in Jackson Heights, had a similar complaint. Although she is “putting it all on the line” to keep her business afloat, she said that she fears many businesses in her industry will end up closing for good.

“I had to get a loan to adapt the salon to the new rules, and buy the acrylic panels and the new cleaning products. We are also supposed to hire an additional person to do cleaning only. I want to start off on the right foot but, on the other hand, this is not an essential service for many people at this time,” said Salazar.

She said that on top of the additional expenses she will have to incur to be ready for the reopening, the new rules also forced her to cut her staff and number of customers in half, negatively affecting the business’ recovery prospects.

“We owe a few months’ rent, and I doubt that large numbers of customers will be walking in. I do not know how it is going to go. So far, no one has offered any assistance to these businesses, which are pillars of our communities,” said Salazar.

Nail salons officially opened on Monday, alongside other personal care services, such as piercing, tattoo and massage parlors and waxing and tanning salons.

During phase 2, hair salons and barber shops were allowed to reopen. Many of them had a new price list in place, and many are now charging more for their services.

“We have months of accumulated bills. Unfortunately, we had to make small adjustments to secure our business,” said another Queens salon owner who chose to remain anonymous.

A 46-year-old Ecuadoran manicure and pedicure technician who also chose to withhold her name has worked in this sector for 20 years. The pandemic’s effect on it is making her consider going back to her country of birth.

“The salon owner implied – she did not say it officially – that she may have to cut hours and raise the prices but that, at the end of the day, the income I make from commissions would remain the same. Between the reduced number of customers and the new norms, I doubt that I will be able to support myself,” she said.

The Forest Hills resident said she was eager to go back to work to earn some money to pay the debts she has accumulated while the salon was closed. However, she is also worried that fewer hours and smaller commissions will mean she may have to work for three months to earn what  she used to make in two weeks.

Other industry experts who spoke to El Diario had to reinvent themselves during the pandemic.

Dominican immigrant Luisa Cáceres did not wait for salons to reopen. Like many other personal care and beauty industry workers, she began making house calls in mid-April, offering the services while the pandemic was at its most critical point in the city.

“Some regular customers cannot stand having ugly nails, especially in the summer, when they can wear sandals. I started contacting them one by one. Obviously, the service is more expensive because you are moving around with your equipment. Nail files are now disposable, the washer needs a special plastic cover,” said Cáceres, who is not sure that she will go back to doing short-term work at a Manhattan salon. “Everything has a new protocol. Everything is sterilized thoroughly with a special spray. This is how I have survived.”

Cáceres believes that many customers will prefer to be served at home with extreme safety measures in place than go to a salon, where the risk is higher, for a while longer.

Lilly Feliz, owner of Beauty Secrets Nails Salon in Upper Manhattan, spent the week before the Phase 3 reopening making adjustments to her shop.  The entrepreneur said that, “little by little” the hairstyling business has “picked up,” but she expects things to remain slow for some time.

“I have four pedicure chairs, but I will only be able to use two at a time in order to keep distance between the customers. We will only be able to see people by appointment. We are living through tough times, but we will keep moving forward,” said Feliz.

The entrepreneur, who has lived in New York City for five years, has adapted her establishment to the “new normal.” This will include checking the body temperature of both customers and staff.

“We must stay on top of every detail to avoid a rebound. Things will be slower and more complicated, but we’re still here,” she said.