By DIANE XAVIER
The Dallas Examiner
Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States in January, it has impacted every aspect of life – from socializing to providing for one’s family.
When Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins issued a stay at home order March 22, nonessential businesses were required to close. Among the closures were beauty salons and barbershops. Like many small businesses, the closures hit the industry hard, especially for African Americans.
Irish Watson, owner of Wow! “If Looks Could Kill” Hair Studio in Dallas was among those effected.
Watson has been in business for 20 years and in the downtown area for 10 years.
“When the pandemic first broke, I was in shock because of the fact that there was this pandemic and it was going to be affecting a lot of businesses,” Watson said. “People were dying so that was my first shocker. And then, I didn’t think that we would be closing.”
Watson was upset at first because she was already following safety protocols before COVID-19; social distancing, seeing clients one at a time, keeping everything sanitized, and wearing gloves and masks depending on the client. But she said she realized that not all salons and barbershops followed the same precautions.
“I was kind of disappointed at first,” she continued. “But then by the time the numbers in Dallas County started going up, that’s when I started getting really concerned about safety.”
Yet, it was still a struggle for her to close her hair studio.
“It’s affected our industry in a major way because if we don’t work, we don’t eat,” she said. “So my disappointment came when the governor started releasing funds for businesses. They [gave] the big businesses their lifeline but didn’t throw us a lifeline. The big businesses already had working capital. So, in my opinion they should have started with the small businesses first.”
Watson applied for the small business loan but hasn’t receive anything yet.
Watson then contacted the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulations to get information on the number of people in her industry. According to TDLR as of April 7, there are 3529 barbers, 26172 cosmetologists, and 1913 massage therapists that cannot work due to COVID-19.
“It was difficult to gather those numbers because they gave me a hard time, but I got the numbers to Commissioner John Wiley Price and his thing was he wanted to help us but focused on health and safety first,” Watson said. Another problem I had was when they allowed some of the golf courses to still open, liquor stores were still open, smoke shops were still open, gun shops were open, and at the beginning I was p—-d off because if they are considered essential why are we considered non-essential? That really bothered me.”
Watson said she does not plan to go back to work until the number of coronavirus cases goes down.
“It’s safety first,” she said. “I am not going back to work, but my rent still has to be paid at my salon. My salon is closed, my rent still had to be paid and my utilities still had to be paid and I had my personal bills that still had to be paid.”
Watson applied for unemployment benefits and said it was a struggle at first but finally got through in early May. Watson has had to battle personal struggles as well as dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic impacting her business.
“It impacted me tremendously because I had just started rebuilding my clientele and then my mom had cancer in 2015 and once she had her surgery she had two strokes, so in 2015 to 2018 I lost clientele because I was helping to take care of my mom and that was a very stressful time, and as I started rebuilding then this pandemic happened. Just as I was starting to rebuild my clientele this happened, and it was another major setback for me.”
Watson usually serves 20 to 30 clients a week on a regular month.
She is coping with this by spending time with her grandson and by doing her hobbies such as cooking.
“This is just not about me or just about the beauty industry, it’s about all small businesses,” she said. “Once again, I didn’t understand why the government would give billionaires billions and millionaires millions and they gave them a lifeline, and they should have given us a lifeline as well. Some small businesses got help but since the big business applied for the loan there were not enough to go around for the small businesses.”
Watson has not pursued any other work during the time off.
“My clients have been asking me if I need any help, I have been telling them ‘no’ because I trust the system and plan the system will work for small businesses. In my building they worked with me to pay my rent, so my rent still got paid.
Watson said she will still take precautionary measures once she does decide to open.
“I want to go back to work, but I want to go back to work when it is safer because it wouldn’t make sense for us to jeopardize lives because we are still not in the clear. I don’t think our government either locally or nationally were prepared for this pandemic at all because everybody was given different information, misleading information, confusing information. So, I hope that in the future that this is a lesson that we must stay prepared.”
Watson has personally decided not to open until the number of cases go down.
“The COVID is still there. So, that’s why I have not gone in yet. It’s still not safe to open up because they haven’t opened up the government buildings so why is it safe for us to go back. I feel safer once those numbers go down.”
Watson said once she does open, the precautions she will take include seeing clients on a case by case basis, wearing masks, and using thermometers to scan people’s heads at her business. She is also having the building to take the carpet out and sanitize the carpet.
Jael Mathis, owner and operator of Salon Ja’el located in Duncanville has also been economically impacted by the COVID-19 shutdown.
Mathis is an established hair stylist since 1991 and has done hair for 28 years.
“I’ve owned and operated my salon since 2005 as just solely me,” Mathis said. “Nothing ever like this has happened to me to think that I would be out of work like this.”
She serves various clients such as judges, lawyers, police officers, teachers and stay-at-home moms.
“I always had a steady base of income and since coronavirus first happened what had made it so bad was that I had a hysterectomy the month before, so technically, I have not been back to work since then. So, it was like I had not planned to be out since this whole duration,” Mathis said.
“When I went back to work, I only went back after my eight weeks were up for my surgery that was the week of the 21st of March. And that’s the week we had to close. It was a devastating time.”
Mathis said she had to think fast as to what she could do to make income while her salon was shut down. So, she applied and landed a job at Target.
“I had no resume, I had no skills, I didn’t know where to apply for a job and I didn’t know any of the skills needed to go into the workforce, so I just got on the internet and started looking at job sites, and I found a job at Target. I went in there and told them I am a salon owner and, I am closing due to COVID-19 and I needed to work,” she said.
Mathis credits her faith for getting through tough times.
“God has really carried me through this whole time through this fight,” she said.
Despite being in business for 15 years and paying her rent on time, Mathis said her landlord raised her rent by $50 and didn’t renew her lease.
“I’m just going month-to- month now and I can’t risk losing everything, such as my contacts that I have in my business, my equipment, my decor and just everything,” she said. “I can’t risk losing what I have invested. So, he didn’t want a workout option to pay the rent, and he just sent me all these things from the SBA. And I said it’s not that I wouldn’t pay him, it’s just that I said can you give me more time? Because I wasn’t prepared to be closed. Nobody thought businesses would be closed by the government. That’s basically my story.”
Mathis said she only has two other employees and plans to reopen.
“What we plan to do is do a soft open, we are going to do maybe three or four clients a day and we are going to space them out between two hours and do the sanitation and cleaning process,” she said. “We will require them to wear face masks and to wear gloves, but we will not allow anybody to bring someone else with them. Seniors citizens will have a day and people with compromised immune systems will have a day to come to the salon as well.
Mathis also usually serves around 25-30 clients in a week but knows that business will be slow at first.
“My clients are eager to get back into the salons. I am not expecting a full roster of people to return right away because people are cautious and weary, and we want to be safe.”
Her salon has been closed since March 19.
“I had a backup plan because I knew I needed to keep my family taken care of and my business,” she said. “ I knew that I couldn’t just let things crumble to the ground, so I had to think fast of different things I could do or it ended up working to my favor and ended up with something really good. I am not going to quit this side job that I have because I think it is a little security for right now just until things get steady or pan out to normal. I think it will be safe for me to keep this because they already know that I have a salon, and they are working around my schedule.”
Mathis applied for the small business loan but hasn’t receive anything yet.
“If it wasn’t for my family or my clients or friends then I don’t know how I would make it,” she said. “If we would have gotten a forewarning like in December, we could have done things differently. We were hit that morning and then were told we had to close down. That was no warning. I just learned that our industry is not protected. We are not thought of as a really serious industry because for them to open up pet grooming and not hair salons made me realize how low we are on the totem pole of businesses.”
“For the Black community, a lot of our businesses are beauty, makeup, hair, nails, clothes, fashion and retail. That is where a lot of our income comes from, those sources, so just to see that the industry, our state, we don’t have anything that we can put money into that will help us in times like this. So, it just made me think about a lot of things about my industry that I would have done differently if I was much younger.”
Mathis feels hopeful that things will get better.
“I just think you have to stay calm, stay focused, be adaptable, learn to grow in different areas,” she said.
“This pandemic has taken us all to a level of growing and maturity in different levels. I am thankful I didn’t have any big regrets about anything. I learned a lot about myself and my ability to bounce back. Being a Black woman and having two daughters, I want them to see my resilience, and I want them to see how that just because your circumstance change doesn’t mean that you have to succumb to it. I am really happy with everything that is going on for me, and I know it is only going to get better.”