Around 11 a.m. Saturday, local hair salon owners gathered with elected officials to hold a press conference to discuss the reopening of salons during the “yellow” phase of the state’s COVID-19 pandemic reopening plan.
Close to 50 people – mostly salon owners – stood outside the David J. Witchell salon on State Street in Newtown Borough to ask Gov. Tom Wolf to reopen cosmetology businesses.
“The fate of a business is no longer in the owner’s hands. No business should be forced to remain closed for three months, especially when neighboring states and counties are reopening,” said David Witchell, co-owner of the salon.
In the U.S., the salon and spa industry boasted more than 1.2 million businesses bringing in more than $57 billion in sales, according to a 2019 Professional Beauty Association (PBA) report.
While the lights remain off in Witchell’s salon, as for many other salons in surrounding towns, State Sen. Steve Santarsiero (D-10) was optimistic that a reopening date would be arriving soon.
“There’s a bipartisan effort to allow these people to open up and to keep it safe. It’s happened in other states and we think it can happen here. It’s better for it to be regulated and we’re hopeful to move to a green phase in a couple of weeks,” Santarsiero said.
The press conference itself was bipartisan, with both Santarsiero and State Rep. Frank Farry (R-142) addressing salon owners concerns.
“Unfortunately, a lot of what we’ve done with legislating has fallen on partisan lines, which I don’t think it needs to be that way. I’m hopeful Governor Tom Wolf can hear this and take it into consideration,” Farry said.
Bucks County Health Department Director Dr. David Damsker was in attendance and supported allowing salons to reopen if COVID-19-related safety measures are taken.
Salon owners told the elected officials that above all else they wanted a tentative date available to resume business. Some owners insisted that guidelines and protocol also needed to be established before a reopening date.
“Nobody knows anything and not knowing is the worst enemy,” said Matthew Hilman, owner of Riah Hair Studio in Furlong.
Hillman said his business brings in an annual revenue of $1.2 million. With his doors closed for three months, he said his revenue is down $300,000. When it’s time to be open, Hillman wants to be ready.
“I want to be smart about prepping and budgeting for reopening. But we at least want a date from a planning perspective,” Hillman said.
Claudia Packlaian is the manager at Tangles Hair Salon in Northampton. While she was very happy that officials were able to put politics aside for the Saturday press conference, she knows that a date is necessary so her shop can begin to serve her community once again.
“It’s not just about money coming into our salon. It’s not just about making someone look beautiful. It’s about our clients have stability in their lives once again,” she said.
Packlaian added that all of the salon owners and managers are licensed in sanitation and sterilization.
“There are waitresses and retail owners who aren’t licensed in sanitation. We just want to give a date to our clients so they don’t go and get underground haircuts,” Packlaian said.
According to a survey from BehindTheChair.com, an organization with millions of followers that support hairdressers, 72 percent of hair salon workers said they either live paycheck-to-paycheck or have only about a month’s worth of savings to live on. According to that same survey, about 23 percent of salon workers reported having no health insurance.
For David Witchell’s staff in Newtown Borough, he said his employees were lucky enough to collect unemployment and are “making the best of this situation.”
Still, his workers want to get back to work and so does he.
“For us, as owners, we’re all in the same boat. Every single day you’re figuring out how to get to the finish line. And the problem is that the goal post for that finish line keeps getting moved out. You don’t know where it is, you don’t know how to budget, and you’re left here flailing,” he said.
And his message for the governor?
“Making this political isn’t the way to solve this. Democrats are suffering just as much as Republicans. To solve the problem, get together with your people and figure out a date to reopen,” he said.