These Latino beauty salon owners had no choice but to get back in business amid the pandemic and their fears of coronavirus.
On a normal day before the COVID-19 pandemic closed down Arizona’s economy, sounds of reggaeton, glamour, and laughter pulsed through Bella Beauty Studios in Phoenix. But after the salon closed due to the state’s stay-at-home order, only deafening silence and darkness remained.
“All events and weddings we had scheduled had to be canceled,” said Fabián Peña, one of the owners of Bella Makeup, a company dedicated exclusively to providing makeup services in Phoenix.
“Thank God we had savings. We [used] that little money we had to pay the rent, the utilities … but if it were not for that, we would be in quite a lot of trouble,” Peña added.
Peña and his business partner, Carmen Uria, didn’t qualify to receive funds through the Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) because they have contractors — not full-time employees — on their roster. If the business had remained closed, the partners would have run out of savings by the end of the month.
They did try to remain closed despite Gov. Ducey lifting restrictions on Arizona’s stay-at-home order, which allowed salons and barbershops to reopen on May 8. However, after fighting so hard to turn their dream of Bella Makeup into a reality back in 2014, the business partners decided they had no choice but to reopen this week while taking things slow and practicing safety as best they can.
“We want to take our time. We are already taking appointments,” said Peña. Although business is nothing like what they would normally see in March and April, he said he hopes to increase bookings in upcoming weeks – even with the challenges of reopening.
Makeup requires closer contact with clients who, for obvious reasons, cannot wear face masks. And although Peña and Uria have always been strict with cleaning protocols, the coronavirus represents a greater challenge than they could ever have imagined.
“You cannot practice social distancing when you are working on someone else’s face,” said Peña. “We don’t want to get sick or put our customers at risk, and that is something that made our decision extremely difficult.”
Peña noted that if safety issues arise as operations resume, the partners will take a step back if needed to ensure everyone’s safety.
Similar to Peña and Uria, Linda Valenzuela, opened her beauty salon after it closed because she said she had no choice. Since closing her business on April 4, Valenzuela has felt her anxiety heighten. Linda Valenzuela Salon, after all, is her main source of income. And like many other small Latino business owners in Arizona, she failed to get relief.
“I had rage and sadness that I could not control,” said Valenzuela. “Economically, I did not know what I would do. I spent hours filling out applications for the PPP or other grants. I filled out every application I found, but I didn’t get them.”
All she could get was $2,000 from the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“I felt bad knowing that my employees don’t have any other source of income. My savings are limited and we need to work,” Valenzuela said.
Before the pandemic, Valenzuela had solid bookings for high school proms across Phoenix.
“The seniors used to text me to tell me that they had already bought their dresses,” she recalled. “We were excited about them – with them – but everything was canceled.”
So on the day after Gov. Ducey announced the reopening of beauty salons in Arizona, Valenzuela’s schedule was already booked.
“When we closed in April, our clients asked me to be first on the list when we reopened. I started that list, but I didn’t have the chance to call them, because other people started booking online and that was it,” Valenzuela said.
On May 7, the day before opening, Valenzuela spent the day cleaning what was already clean, and disinfecting what she had disinfected so many times before. She didn’t want to take any risks.
Valenzuela and her employees also established a plan for reopening. Upon arrival, clients must now stay in their cars and text Valenzuela to let her know they’ve arrived. They must wash their hands, sanitize their phones, keep personal belongings to a minimum, wear masks, and arrive alone. If they are sick, they must reschedule. There is no longer a cancellation fee, and Valenzuela is currently limiting salon capacity to six people at a time.
“We are all at risk,” she said. “Although we are taking all precautions, we can be contaminated … and we are aware of that.”
Valenzuela has also changed pricing for services to thank her customers for their understanding and support.
She also emphasized that although she is afraid of what will happen as Arizona continues to report new COVID-19 cases every day, “beautifying clients” is her passion and she cannot afford to close her salon again.
“I’m aware that after this, I have to invest much more to offer a safe environment,” said Valenzuela.
This story was produced in partnership with Feet in 2 Worlds, a project that brings the work of immigrant journalists to digital media and public radio.
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