Photo courtesy of Katie Allen
Photo courtesy of Katie Allen

While some protest, these Metro Detroit stylists say staying home during a deadly pandemic is a better idea.

MACOMB COUNTY, MI — While a handful of defiant barbers in Michigan made waves during Wednesday’s ‘Operation Haircut’ protest, a hairdresser within one of the state’s harder hit areas says she’s not ready to perform her services during the pandemic.

Katie Allen is a 15-year veteran stylist and colorist. The St. Clair Shores resident has been working out of the Aria Salon in Grosse Pointe Woods for almost a decade. Despite loyal clientele – some of whom would happily welcome Allen into their homes for a covert coloring session – and stay-at-home restrictions that will be lifted soon, she says she isn’t ready to risk lives for her craft.

It’s a craft which would require Allen to be up-close-and-personal with up to a dozen different people each day, adding untold risk during the deadly pandemic. 

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“I could see anywhere from 2 to 12 (clients) depending on the work I was doing,” she tells The ‘Gander, “with appointment length ranging from from a couple of hours to an entire day.”

Denise Nasiou has been at Aria Salon for the past two years of her more than 20-year career. She’s not rushing back to work either.

“How is it fair to do hair in public where you can’t sanitize when you can’t even do hair in an unlicensed salon,” she questioned of the ‘Operation Haircut’ protestors’ actions. 

Nasiou says that old fashioned human nature is also a deterrent. 

“People will come in sick,” says the wife and mother of two. “They will call it allergies or even be asymptomatic. There’s just so many variables…it’s a scary thought.”

Allen said she wouldn’t risk clientele by putting them in her chair, either. 

“I’m going to feel responsible,” she says. “What if I don’t clean my chair enough and one of my clients was exposed to somebody and somebody gets sick. It’s a lot on my conscience at least.”

Sacrifices to Flatten the Curve

When Gov. Whitmer first closed nonessential businesses, Allen found herself bored at home with her furbabies like many other Michiganders – but as a pet-Mom, she gets to avoid the responsibility of homeschooling. She spends her time with her chihuahuas watching some of her favorite stylists’ work on YouTube and Instagram, rather than joining the small but vocal group of fellow hairdressers on the State Capitol’s lawn.

“After a while even that kind of gets a little bit old,” Allen said. “But our whole salon has a group text to keep in contact and I’m a member of a lot of national and global stylist groups. It makes you feel like you’re not alone.”

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Clients also check in with her and send words of encouragement. Allen’s skills won’t be lacking when she does return to her chair. She’s done just about all she could to her own hair already.

“I got really bored,” she laughed. “I’ve done two rounds of highlights and a couple of root touch ups. I’ve been practicing my razoring skills all on my own head which is a lot harder. But it was something to do.”

While Allen is home, she posts her work on social media to engage with friends, family and clients. She has also managed to eke some entrepreneurial hustle in the midst of the pandemic and make some socially distant connections too.

“I did something I never thought in a million years I’d do and mixed some color kits for clients,” Allen says. 

Her temporary enterprise involved arriving at a client’s house with a scale, color and color cards. She mixed the color in the driveway and left the kit behind along with instructions they could reference.

“My clients have been very appreciative,” she says. “I thought it would help with people not rushing the door when we open and honestly put a little bit of money in my pocket.”

Allen and Nasiou were also able to file for unemployment. It hasn’t been the nightmare they anticipated.

“I didn’t get a paycheck for six-and-a-half weeks because I’m an independent contractor,” Allen says. “I’m very grateful Michigan got that up and running, and running quick. I know there are hairdressers across the country with nothing. It’s like a double edged sword – I feel bad for them, but feel glad that Michigan got it right.”

Shortly after the coronavirus outbreak was confirmed in Michigan, Gov. Whitmer expanded the state’s unemployment insurance to include independent contractors.

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Looking to the Future

Allen says she’s not sure when she will return to work. The state government and licensing board have been silent on guidelines for salons and barber shops reopening. Rumors are floating through her stylist groups that other states will no longer allow blow drying as a service.

Aria Salon is set up for six stylists, six clients and a receptionist. In accordance with CDC, federal and state guidelines, they plan to stagger appointment times to minimize the number of people exposed to one another on any given day.

“I don’t want to take that chance,” she says. “It’s not worth it to me to end up face down on a respirator.”

Salon owner, Dmitriy Pomogalov, is not punishing stylists who choose to delay returning to work, according to Allen.

“The owner of the salon has given us choice. “So I know my chair is safe and my job is safe. I think I’m going to let the salon open and see how it goes for a couple weeks. “Hopefully my clients will wait for me and I think they will.”

Nasiou says she also appreciates Aria Salon’s understanding owners.

“My bosses are doing everything they can to make it safe,” Nasiou says. “But there’s no way to make it 100 percent safe. I’d need either complete testing or a vaccine [to feel completely safe].” 

Michigan salons will be very different whenever they do reopen. Allen points out that the days of buzzing activity throughout the building with client appointments stacked on top of one another, and sometimes overlapping, are over.

“Even if we’re allowed to do 70% of what we were able to do, we’re all taking a pay cut, she says. Barber and hairdressers will need to space out appointments which will lead to fewer clients seen and longer days worked, according to Allen.

Nasiou is also worried about infection but questions Michiganders who don’t call or write their elected officials to voice concern during a pandemic.

“I feel like it kind of demoralizes our profession. It’s such a negative way to make a statement by putting other people in danger,” she says of the protestors’ actions.

Allen says she’s speechless.

“I can’t believe that all those hairdressers and clients are going to take the risk to make a point that doesn’t really need to be made. I don’t agree with it.”

Gov. Whitmer’s current stay-at-home order is set to expire on May 28.