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Cosmetologists ready to get back to work

The staff at Shear Images Melissa Walker (from left) Katie Bridges, Ashley Caldwell and Cynthia Laws are ready to get back to work. Donated photo The staff at Shear Images Melissa Walker (from left) Katie Bridges, Ashley Caldwell and Cynthia Laws are ready to get back to work. Donated photo

Melissa Walker opened her salon in Sylva in 2006, which means she’s been able to build a thriving business in a small town for 14 years even through all the challenges, including the 2008 economic recession. 

“My answer to hard times has always been to just cut more hair and now I can’t do that. That used to be the answer for everything,” she said. 

Shear Images had to shut down March 25 when “non-essential” businesses were forced to close under Gov. Roy Cooper’s State of Emergency stay at home order. That’s more than two months of zero income as utility bills continue to come due. In a salon, the hair stylists are independent contractors that pay the owner a monthly booth rent to help cover salon costs. 

Walker said she hasn’t asked her three other stylists to pay their booth rent while they aren’t working. She just couldn’t add another hardship on her employees, who are more like her extended family.

“All of them have been with me for more than three years, most of them have been with me for eight years,” she said. “They all qualified for unemployment but not until April 24 — a whole month after we had to close. They couldn’t even get on the website to apply because it kept kicking them off.”

Without much guidance from the state, Walker said she’s trying to prepare the best she can for when she can reopen by staying up to date on changes and looking to other states who are farther along in the process, including Georgia and Tennessee. 

She’s applied for a Small Business Association loan and grant, but so far all she’s received is an email saying the application is under review. The Payroll Protection Plan is not an option for the salon since the employees are independent contractors. The processes have been tedious and frustrating for many small business owners who’ve never had to apply for assistance. 

“I went to the small business meeting they did virtually here in Jackson County to make sure I’m doing everything I can possibly do,” she said. “I’ve always thought if I did the right things and ran a good business and paid my taxes on time, that we could survive anything, but when you’re told you can’t work, that is a different scenario.”

Salons in Georgia began reopening last week with strict guidelines using masks, cleaning requirements and even checking employees’ and clients’ temperatures as they come in for their appointment. While salons are included in phase 2 of North Carolina’s reopening plan, which could start in two more weeks, Walker is already taking steps to get Shear Images ready for when the day comes. 

“We’ve already rearranged the shop to keep people six feet apart as much as possible,” she said. “As cosmetologists, we’re trained to use hospital grade disinfectant on everything before all this started and that’s what ticks me off the most because I know my business is cleaner than Walmart could ever be. As far as us feeling comfortable, I know all my stylists would go back tomorrow if they’d let us.”

When it comes to whether clients will feel comfortable coming back to the salon, Walker said Shear Images will be flexible to ensure people feel comfortable when they reopen. Many of the salon’s loyal clients book their appointments out for a year, so they’ve already missed two appointments. 

“They’ll be our first priority and when we’re allowed to open up to guests, we’re looking at opening during hours when we’d usually be closed if we have concerned guests or for those who are immunocompromised,” she said. 

Until that day comes, Walker is at home trying to keep her three sons — ages 7, 11 and 13 — on track with their school work. Her employees also have children at home. The next challenge will be figuring out childcare options when they do go back to work. Walker said many of them will be relying on grandparents or other family members to help them out. 

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