GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Elisabeth Bartrom stands near the front desk of her empty salon, Chasing Vanity Salon and Medi Spa. It’s midnight on a day she has prepared weeks for. She’s there fine-tuning changes and making sure her doors are ready when they open to clients in 10 hours. It’s almost seven years to the day she stood in a similar spot as they opened their doors for the first. And the feeling is similar: a world of unknowns.
On Monday, salons statewide are able to reopen after being shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told salons across Michigan to close their doors beginning March 17, Bartrom used the time to try to figure out how she could safely reopen her doors as she and other salon owners waited for instructions from the state.
“It’s been a rollercoaster of unknowns, beginning with we thought we’d just be closed for two weeks,” Bartrom said. “It’s been an emotional up and down. Like any small business it hurts when you’re not open, so we want to be open and get back on track, post-COVID.”
Now with new guidelines from the state, Bartrom has taken other steps to ensure the confidence of her staff and clients that the salon is clean and sanitized. She upgraded appointment technology, with customers checking in from their cars. Stylists will be able to instantly see their clients have checked-in and communicate when their chairs are cleaned and ready.
Just outside of the front doors are two stations. The first has a temperature check and COVID-19 questionnaire to make sure no one is running a fever or has been exposed to the virus. The second will have personal sanitizing products to use before entering the salon.
Bartrom said the process of figuring out how to make the changes practical for clients has been easier than she thought.
“We have a lot more control over our environment. We have the opportunity to clean everything and control what people are touching,” Bartrom said. “From curbside check-in to pulling all of our products off the shelves.”
The bare shelves is the first change customers will notice when they walk in. Products have been pulled to keep people from touching them. Staff will get clients the products they need.
The salon has partitioned off shampoo bowls. It has social distancing reminders stuck to the floor and signs saying masks are required for entry. It has added disposable masks for $1 if clients don’t want to use theirs during their appointment. Patrons will pay from their phones and the salon is not taking cash indefinitely.
“We’re still figuring out this flow,” Bartrom said. “You can only plan for some much before you’re actually doing it.”
The biggest changes will be in the cleaning. After each shampoo the bowl and seat will be washed down by the stylist. When a client leaves a chair, employees will need to first wash any touched surfaces with soap and water, then douse the space with Barbicide, a COVID killer, and let it sit for 10 minutes before washing it down again.
It’s a process that Bartrom says will add time to each visit but it is necessary to establish a threshold of cleanliness and safety to meet the state’s requirements of opening.
“I think long term, it will really streamline things and quite honestly with my entire business,” Bartrom said. “I feel like when you open a business it’s always like a hamster wheel, what’s the next thing, the next disaster, the next milestone? But you never have an opportunity to just sit and think about your business with nothing going on.”
Almost 90 days have afforded her and other salon owners just that. She belongs to a group of over 150 small business salons that have all been bouncing ideas off one another and sharing practices that may work in these “COVID-days.”
Bartrom says that the feeling as she reopens is much like the one she had when she started this business — a nervous excitement, knowing that it may be a few weeks before the new normal, becomes the new routine.