Shelly Ruiz is happily back at work cutting and coloring men’s and women’s hair after a string of early dates on the city’s pandemic reopening schedule.
“We never thought that living rooms would be in the final stages, along with cinemas and gyms,” she said. “It was frustrating. We are more hygienic than other busy places because we are trained and licensed to handle this stuff.
By early summer, her regulars were jamming her inbox, looking for dates. “I could have booked six days a week, 10 hours a month a month,” Ruiz said. But the Friday before salons reopened on Monday, the dates were adjusted due to a spike in coronavirus cases across the city.
“In June they told us it wasn’t going to happen, then they just stopped giving us dates,” she said.
Some of his customers, desperate for refreshment, traveled to nearby counties where salons had tentatively reopened.
Observing how other beauty businesses have adapted to the extended shutdown, Ruiz shook his head.
“They had partitions installed, then the partitions were never used.”
Some stylists have tried outdoor and mobile setups, but at Bubble Pop Electric, the salon where Ruiz rents a chair, the owner and store owner worked together on a slow but steady plan to reopen. The show skipped the outdoor phase and held on for the limited-capacity indoor reopening in September.
“But after so many false starts, we decided that building an open-air lounge that could be closed at any time made no sense. Why? A dry cut? Discounts are actually only 20% of a salon’s revenue. But when you are open, you have to pay 100% of the expenses. It will be interesting to see how the lounges adapt.
For independent contractors like Ruiz who qualified for pandemic unemployment assistance, “That extra $600 made the difference. It took some of the stress away and it made it possible to continue living in San Francisco,” she said,
“Coming to the salon, rubbing shoulders with my clients and colleagues, being creative and social and making people feel good about themselves is not really for me. I love my job and what I do,” she said. “I started working when I was 16 and never took a month off, let alone six.”
Not all of her fellow stylists have had the chance to return to salons or book on their calendars. Workers on the special events circuit are particularly affected who have missed their entire spring, summer and now fall season, seeing their work reduced, postponed or canceled entirely.
“A lot of them are really, really struggling,” she said.
In fact, Ruiz had six marriages on the books that didn’t happen. With fewer places needed, the average person’s need for salon services may seem less essential than ever. And with so many unknown coronaviruses, customers, especially those in high-risk categories, have been slower to return.
“People are calling and wanting to know what the guidelines are,” said Ruiz, who only works three days a week now.
The shop runs several fans and opens doors to circulate air. “We keep it as open as possible and do what we can to make sure everyone is comfortable,” she said. Taking temperatures, constantly disinfecting and limiting the number of people, she will even take extra precautions for her high-risk customers who still want to have their hair cut. “I’ll come early, sanitize and do it again, one more time, for this client,” she said.
“I understand people wanting a sense of normalcy,” she said. Usually styling and doing her own hair, the stylist even had her roommate cut her hair during the lockdown. “She’s an architect and she figured she could draw a straight line down my back,” she said, happy to return the favor.
A hairstylist for 15 years, 13 of them in the Bay Area, Ruiz grew up on the Central Coast in a close-knit family now scattered across the state. She made the decision for herself and the rest of her family to generally maintain distance for everyone’s safety.
“I strictly followed shelter-in-place,” she said.
She waited three and a half months to see her sister and her young niece and nephew in Oakland.
“At the time, we didn’t know what it was, so I parked outside and stayed in the car. It was hard to explain to 5- and 7-year-olds why they couldn’t hug their tia,” she said.
Her whole family went through tests before it was decided to get together for a baby shower in Los Angeles to welcome her brother’s first child.
“I was really conflicted but I hadn’t seen my other sister or my parents,” she said. “I couldn’t live with myself if someone was infected, knowing that it’s so simple to avoid spreading the virus.”
Ruiz recently moved from a small apartment in the Marina neighborhood to a bigger, cheaper one. She’s enjoyed the neighborhood’s natural outdoor beauty on walks in her spare time, but navigating it through the reopening has been a bit trickier.
“A few weeks ago I was looking for something to eat after work around 8:30 a.m. and it was so busy on Chestnut,” she said. “Another Saturday afternoon, on Steiner and Chestnut, forget it: there were easily 200 people without masks. I was tempted to stop and take a picture.
“The terraces were overflowing, people elbow to elbow, or in the middle of the street with glasses without a mask. Are you serious? You are practically forced to walk through groups of unmasked people,” she said.
“I understand businesses are struggling,” she said, doing her part to support her local restaurants. “But strangers will come to the table and ask, without a mask, ‘Are you using this chair?’ And we’re like no!Take it and go now, please!A few times she changed her mind and accepted his order.
She loves the way Alameda’s Al Fresco Dining Park has handled its outdoor dining, drinking and entertainment.
“It feels really safe, with an entrance and an exit,” she said. She also tried the terrace at Riptide in the Outer Sunset where she recently spent a hot Sunday afternoon with friends, listening to the all-instrumental High Tide Trio.
“Everyone was really respectful with masks on. Hanging out, listening to live music gave me a spark of life,” she said. “I saw friends I was seeing twice a week for the first time in six months. It was nice and I really needed it.
She remains optimistic about the future of lounge services, nightlife and life in general here, although she noted that there may be fewer options for venues and services as everything will shake.
“It’s like San Francisco is resetting itself. We’ll see who sticks around,” she said. themselves again. You can’t just stop having your hair done, completely and forever.
Denise Sullivan is an author, cultural worker, and editor of “Your Golden Sun Still Shines: San Francisco Personal Histories & Small Fictions.” She is a guest columnist and her perspective is not necessarily that of the reviewer. Follow her on www.denisesullivan.com and on Twitter @4DeniseSullivan.