Jr. Couture was a small and colorful children’s hair salon on 25th Avenue in San Mateo. Due to shelter-in-place shutdowns and lack of business, the owner of Jr. Couture was forced to break her lease and close the salon.

Hair salons and barbershops were just navigating reopening after the initial shelter-in-place order, and many had only been in business again for five or six weeks. Then, as San Mateo County was ordered onto the state COVID-19 watchlist last week, hair salons and barbershops in the county have been forced to cease indoor operations once more.

Businesses were already struggling during reopening. Many studios were only allowing one client and one stylist in at a time and sanitizing extensively between appointments, vastly decreasing booking capacity.

Quena Valenzuela owns Happy Scissors Kids Hair Salon on San Mateo Avenue. While Valenzuela would usually book 15 to 20 haircuts a day, she was down to less than eight before the recent closure.

Families are afraid to bring their children in for appointments. For a kid’s salon, July and August are usually the busiest months as children get back-to-school haircuts. With schools in the county starting online, there is no longer such a need.

While some local governments are making moves to allow business activities outdoors, it is still unclear to stylists whether outdoor haircuts are sanctioned by the health directive. Beth McCarthy, an independent stylist in San Mateo, learned after extensive research that outdoor styling is allowed with a permit, the application for which is not yet available, she said.

Many hairstylists believe that outdoor services are impractical and not worth the cost of production.

Leann Lasala is a hairstylist at Hue Hair Studio on Fourth Avenue in San Mateo. Hue’s stylists make most of their revenue from services such as dye and styling which cannot be done outside.

“To just be doing haircuts outside, it’s kind of like, what’s the point?” Lasala said.

Hue, like many other San Mateo hair studios, does not have a feasible space in which to do outdoor haircuts. The only options are the back parking lot and garbage area which is shared with neighboring restaurants and “reeks of fish” or a sectioned off parking area on a busy street.

“It really isn’t sanitary,” Lasala said.

Lasala isn’t even sure whether she would be covered by her business’ insurance if she cut hair outdoors.

Lash Stevenson, the owner of Lash’s place on Palm Avenue said that even purchasing a tent or canopy to enable outdoor services can cost around $500. Operating outside and in limited capacity is operating at a loss, he said.

Stevenson has worked at Lash’s Place since he founded the business in 1976. Prior to the coronavirus shutdowns, Stevenson had not missed a day of work for health reasons in 44 years since his business’s opening.

“I’ve worked every day almost of my life,” Stevenson said.

Valenzuela said that as the owner of her business, the shutdowns are especially difficult, as she is ineligible for unemployment benefits and still responsible for rent and other expenses.

Valenzuela’s ability to reopen her business is dependent on county residents taking the coronavirus seriously. She urged Peninsula residents to continue to follow health directives and distancing protocol. When people go out to party or gather in groups, “we are paying the consequences” she said.

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