Johnson City salons ready to comply with state's safety guidelines

David Floyd • Updated May 2, 2020 at 1:00 PM

At Design Studio in Johnson City, 2726 E. Oakland Ave., salon owner Sam Johnson is getting ready for the return of his customers next week — with some differences.

When the business reopens on May 6, Design Studio will have a stockpile of masks for customers who don't bring their own, and stylists will be wearing disposable capes, gloves and surgical masks as they interact with customers.

"We're taking all precautions for the client and also for ourselves as well," Johnson said.

As they get ready to open, local close-contact businesses are adapting to new safety guidelines recommended this week by Gov. Bill Lee, which the state has suggested as safeguards against the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) as Tennessee reopens its economy.

Among the long list of guidelines, the state is asking that businesses take the temperature of employees every day upon arrival at work, require that customers and employees wear cloth face coverings, limit occupancy to 50% of capacity and prohibit the use of waiting areas.

At the Design Studio, Johnson said at most two stylists will be working at a time, maintaining a distance of about eight feet, and the business will set aside an hour in between each client to ensure the salon is sanitized in preparation for the next customer.

Clients will also have their temperature taken through the salon's glass door before they enter the building.

Like Design Studio, NUYU Hair Lounge, 201 E. Main St. #2, is also planning on opening on May 6. Owner Felicia Arreguin said the salon will follow all of the statewide guidance for close contact businesses along with some additional precautions.

The business will maintain a maximum of 10 people in the space at a time and will remove frequently touched objects like magazines. Customers and clients will also wear masks, and stylists will take time to frequently clean the space.

They will also screen customers with questions about symptoms before they enter the salon, and Arreguin said the business is looking into performing temperature checks.

Additionally, stylists will alternate when they're working, and the salon will limit the number of clients they take per day to three or five. Arreguin and her coworkers will also be taking a refresher sanitation course in preparation for the reopening.

Initially, Arreguin said she was under the impression that the state would be rebooting the economy at a slower pace, taking a couple weeks per phase. Now, phases seem to be moving at a quicker clip.

"It's a little sooner than we thought," Arreguin said, "but we feel that as long as we're following the guidelines and taking these extra sanitation steps that it should be OK. We all feel comfortable to open on the sixth."

Tim Curtis, who rents a chair at Design Studio, said May 6 could be too early to start reopening close contact services.

"It's terrible because it's our livelihood, but I think some things are more important than our income," Curtis said.

He noted that every salon seems to operate under its own set of rules. Within the industry, Curtis said many salons have been in the habit of serving multiple customers at once, a practice that Curtis said he and Johnson have historically avoided.

Johnson said Design Studio has always made an effort to tailor its services to one client at a time, which is an approach that won’t have to change under the governor’s guidelines.

"We've been trying to give individual attention," Curtis said. "We've been taking one client at a time, we make sure those clients don't ever overlap and that was just a good business decision back then because we wanted to respect our client's time and money."

Now, Curtis said that's a model that should be enforced across the board.

Curtis added that close contact businesses like cosmetology and beauty industry have among the highest standards for cleanliness among small businesses, noting that about a third of the education associated with those industries has to do with disease prevention and hygiene standards.

"I think if you have small businesses that are reputable and understand those processes, I think those clients on a one-on-one basis are safe, and I think this industry can handle what it's coming up against," Curtis said.

Financially, this period has been difficult time for Johnson because he hasn't been able to secure stimulus money for his business or unemployment benefits.

"It's been a very discouraging and a very eye-opening experience for me," said Johnson, who will mark his 39th year in the salon business this month.

But Johnson anticipates it will be a busy time for Design Studio when the business reopens next week.

"It will be of course something we'll have to move back into at a very slow pace, but I'm very encouraged to know my clients will support me," Johnson said.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Felicia Arreguin’s name.