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The COVID-19 pandemic has changed life for everyone in Kansas City in ways we don’t even understand yet. KCUR is documenting those changes, one by one, through our individual stories. Share yours.

Kansas Citians Get Comfortable 'Little By Little' As They Return To Salons

Uneeda Robinson misses being able to chit chat with the other person under the dryer, but it's worth coming back for the head massage.

Kansas and Missouri reopened salons with strict pandemic precautions. It's a non-essential service that can't be done from a safe social distance. For our series the Next Normal, we hear a lot of understanding for pandemic precautions.

Molly Boyer knew she was taking a chance when she opened her GROW Hair Studio in June -not long after stay-at-home orders were lifted. Many of her clients were following her to the small Brookside East salon in Kansas City, Missouri, but she didn't know how many would feel safe.

P.T. Campbell was one of them. But visiting with him on his first time back in Boyer's chair, he said the sign-in for contact tracing purposes, the temperature check, the mask were all fine.

“She’s taught me pretty well over the years so I can kind of (do my hair) at home,” he says, holding tight to the side of the mask as she navigates a razor around his ear. “But it just never looks as good.”

Laura Ziegler
Molly Boyer will trim P.T. Campbell's beard and neck around the mask, but she doesn't let him release the maks and doesn't touch the hair below it.

Campbell is not alone. A call out on social media and a random, unscientific sample of salon-goers reveals that of those who are choosing to go to a salon now that they’ve reopened are not bothered, and in fact are relieved, that salons have rigorous health and safety precautions in place.

It is difficult to talk about the salon experience as essential against the backdrop of millions of coronavirus cases.

But the small businesses have been adversely affected and the industry as a whole has a dramatic impact on the economy.

Salon Today, the industry’s primary journal about the business of beauty, estimates the ticket for the average salon client is $92 dollars. Industry experts estimate clients tend to visit an average of every six to eight weeks.

Salon Today

As of 2018, there were more than 1.2 million salon and spa businesses nationwide with annual sales of more than $62 billion.

Safe social distancing is impossible during a salon or spa experience, but here is how some owners and customers are doing their best.

081920_P.T.Campbell_Molly Boyer_GrowHairSalon_2_COVID.JPG
Laura Ziegler
P.T. Campbell followed Molly Boyer to her new salon. He's OK with pandemic restrictions.

A new place

At Boyer's GROW Hair Studio, Campbell, 28, admits he was long overdue for a salon visit.

"Yeah, it’s getting bushy,” he chuckles. “I haven’t cut it in a long time.”

Campbell says the 12 weeks of the shutdown was the longest he has ever waited between cuts.

But it’s not just the grooming he missed. He and Boyer are friends, and they've missed connecting. It’s nice to talk with her about day to day things. She asks about his dog.

“How old is she now?” Boyer inquires while she snipps the top of his head. He shares the details of their recent trip to the dog park.

“To me, these visits are one of the things that I missed the most about the shut down," Campbell explains.

Laura Ziegler
It's a jovial atmosphere as clients at Joyce Williams Salon in Lees Summit catch up. Williams' regular clients all know one another, and they know her, which provides a community experience for all of them.

Missing the comradery

Uneeda Robinson, who says she doesn’t reveal her age to anybody, is draped in a wide, grey cape and sitting under a dome dryer.

She’s been coming to Joyce Williams Salon, in Lees Summit, Missouri, for six or seven years.

“As far as with Covid, it’s the distance, how we have to be spaced out,” she says.

Williams has a tiny salon – there is one wash bowl, one chair and two dryers. One of the dryers has a piece of paper on the seat asking that no one sit there.

“We don’t get that comradery like we used to,” Robinson says.

When she is working on clients, Williams wears a face mask and protective goggles. A plastic shield covers both which can muddle conversation.

"It's still rewarding because I get a chance to work, and I enjoy seeing each of the clients every week," she says.

But as the bell on the door handle rings with another client, the regulars engage in a jovial gossip session, howling with laughter. They try to social distance as they share pictures on their phones.

Extending her head back up into the dryer, Robinson says even with the restrictions, she’s glad to be back.

“When (Miss Joyce) is in there massaging your scalp, (which) I like my scalp scratched, to get in there and get that blood flowing,” she says with gusto. “Covid can’t touch that! “

Laura Ziegler
Paul Wrablica was back at Bijin Salon and Spa for his weekly massage the week it opened at the end of May. He's gotten used to having a massage with a mask on.

Just as serene

Bijin Salon and Spa in Prairie Village, Kansas, with 35 stylists, 15 aestheticians and massage therapists, and a handful of nail technicians, has made a massive investment in pandemic-related safety measures.

A huge arc of plexi-glass protects the receptionists. A long plastic sheet hangs between customers and the nail technician giving a manicure or pedicure.

The stylists' chairs are already six feet apart but manager Connie Suss says they are still trying to put clients in every other one. “We even added a pricey new air filtration system,” she says.

A filtration device hums in the waiting area downstairs where Paul Wrablica comes for a massage. Even with the fan, you can hear the new age music that is piped into the dimly lit space, accented with the warm glow of a faux fireplace.

“It’s serene,” Wrablica whispers. “Little by little everybody’s getting comfortable with what’s going on, especially having a massage with a mask on. I’m not getting my face massaged just my body.”

He says while going to a bar is out, he feels the spa experience almost has returned to pre-pandemic standards.

Hoping people obey

Laura Ziegler
Bridget Moss is releived by the safety measures Raushan Clark is taking as she welcomes clients back to her salon.

Bridget Moss’s face suggests she’s somewhere far away as Rashaun Clark runs her extraordinarily long fingernails through Mosses hair.

Moss, 49, hasn’t been in for a hair cut since February. It’s her first time at Clarks new Love Over Hair Studio at 56th and Troost.

“I had some anxiety about coming back,” she says. "But once I got here and saw all the safety measures she was taking, I was OK."

She’s growing out her grey hair, but other than that, isn't sure what to do.

“Do you want to go back to the bob, or are you still growing it out?” Clark asks.
“I don’t know exactly what I want, so just chop a bunch off,” says Moss.

Like others, Moss says one of the perks of being back in the salon is hearing about her friend's life, her family, even seeing her young girls who are playing in the back.

For Moss, during this nether-world between isolation and some semblance of what life once was, being here is comforting.

“It’s a way to take care of yourself,” she says. "I just hope everyone continues to obey the rules so we can actually get back to what was once normal.”

I partner with communities to uncover the ignored or misrepresented stories by listening and letting communities help identify and shape a narrative. My work brings new voices, sounds, and an authentic sense of place to our coverage of the Kansas City region. My goal is to tell stories on the radio, online, on social media and through face to face conversations that enhance civic dialogue and provide solutions.
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