Shutdown of Black Hair Businesses

By Énoa Gibson

North Carolina —The abrupt business shut down caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the social distancing measures imposed to curtail its spread are taking a heavy—and perhaps critical—toll on hair salons in black communities, home to a disproportionate share of the disease’s victims.

Shop owners with little financial reserves have been forced to close their doors with little notice of how long that could be, and also with considerable uncertainty over how much help they will receive from government lifelines for small businesses.

Stylists, many of whom are independent contractors dependent on individual customer payments for different services, have become unemployed overnight, without assurances of where money for the next meal, car note, rent check or mortgage payment will come.

The ethnic hair supply business, a multimillion-dollar industry overly reliant on products from China and Korea and dollars from black customers, has become more concerned with exporting face masks and other personal protective gear for hospitals and first responders than wigs and fake pony tails for style savvy women.

“A lot of salons you will see closed and not able to open again. That’s the sad part,” Sam Ennon, CEO of the California-based Black Owned Beauty Supply Association, said in a telephone interview.

Season Bennett, co-owner of Headlines Barbershop here, said North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order shutting down businesses until April 29 as infections and death rates continued to rise could bring economic disaster to some.

“It’s such a huge part of our economy. Just in Charlotte alone, there are over 300 barbershops,” Bennett told Q City Metro, a local black community news outlet.

“The vast majority of the barbers and hairstylists and nail techs, all the people in the beauty industry, they are all self-employed,” she said. “They pay taxes, they’re paying into Social Security. We just need to make sure that they are included in this stimulus package.”

Charlotte stylist and salon owner Shassity Stevenson said the shutdown was a sudden blow to vital cash flow in the business. “Usually there’s a steady need for our services, and so for it to come to such an abrupt halt, I know that a lot of us were not in the least bit prepared to handle what that looks like.”

“From a financial perspective,” Stevenson said, “I don’t think anybody could have ever imagined not making any money.”

During the shutdown, stylists are considering conducting classes online, selling gift cards and providing home-care packages as ways to maintain the loyalty of regular clients.

“They are coming up with all kinds of ways to make money because they don’t have any money right now,” Ennon said. “Every day when they were at the salon, they make money. But if they must wait three months, they don’t have money coming in, so it’s really going to hurt them.”

Ennon discouraged stylists from going to clients’ homes to provide services during the shutdowns because such visits could spread the virus and prolong rather than cut short the social distancing practices imposed to curtail it, and be worse for business in the long run.

“We will survive,” he said. “Our industry is strong, and the stylists are the hearts of our industry.”

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