As Salons And Barbershops Reopen Across Most Of Illinois, Safety Is Still A Concern

Fatima Traoré salon owner
Fatima Traoré, who owns Fatima's African Hair Braiding and Design in Lombard, prepares for clients now that her shop is allowed to be reopened. Mariah Woelfel / WBEZ
Fatima Traoré salon owner
Fatima Traoré, who owns Fatima's African Hair Braiding and Design in Lombard, prepares for clients now that her shop is allowed to be reopened. Mariah Woelfel / WBEZ

As Salons And Barbershops Reopen Across Most Of Illinois, Safety Is Still A Concern

WBEZ is chronicling Illinois’ road to recovery, bringing you stories of people as they move on from COVID-19 physically, emotionally and economically.

At Fatima’s African Hair Braiding & Design in west suburban Lombard, owner Fatima Traoré and her daughter have been furiously wiping counters and sweeping floors.

“People will have to use hand sanitizer before they touch anything,” said Traoré’s daughter, 7-year-old Anna Lankah.

They’re preparing to open their doors after shuttering nearly two months ago due to the pandemic. Nonessential businesses outside of Chicago will be able to reopen this weekend under Phase 3 of the state’s recovery plan. (Chicago will move into that phase on June 3.)

But Traoré said it’s not without fear and hurdles that they’ll start to serve clients again. As of Wednesday, she only had one on the books.

“We’re scared; they’re scared,” she said, as she reflected on what it will mean to grow her business back and how different the salon experience will be going forward.

“We’re not going to be talking or playing music,” Traoré said. “All I’m going to do is turn the TV on and let everybody watch the news so we know what’s going on in the world.”

Salons preparing to reopen are putting state-mandated protocols in place: temperature checks, social distancing and face masks. Traoré said the rules requiring her to keep clients six feet apart will mean a more than 50% cut in her capacity — from eight braiders who can do about three clients a day, to just four who might be able to serve two if they’re lucky.

But she said despite the odds, she’s more than ready to get her braiders back to work — which sometimes means spending up to eight hours on a single client.

“After you see clients years and years, you start to build a community. I miss the clients,” she said.

About 20 miles east, in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, Migdalia Cruz, owner of Migdalia’s Caribbean Beauty Spa, said she envies owners like Traoré, who can open this weekend.

She didn’t find out until Thursday that she’d be able reopen June 3. The uncertainty has been unbearable at times.

“I literally called my eldest daughter last night, and I said, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to survive. Will I be able to hang in there so that I can reopen the doors?’ ” she said.

Cruz has had to lay off all of her nine employees, including herself. They aren’t getting paid during this time. She’s ordered personal protective equipment for the stylists she plans to rehire, and said she’s confident she can provide a safe environment when she does reopen next week.

“It’s not only about reopening the doors,” she said. “It’s about reopening the doors at less than 50% capacity. It’s giving yourself time again [to rebuild]. It’s like opening a brand new business.”

But some stylists and salons in Chicago are not ready to go back to work. Martina Pfefferle works at Barbara&Barbara salon in the city’s Logan Square neighborhood.

“I would be afraid. You have to get within one foot of someone, and there’s no way around that without having like a samurai sword or a blowtorch,” she joked. “Human life should take precedence over our need to look snazzy after a new haircut. Hair is not essential.”

Pfefferle’s salon closed a week before the stay-at-home order. The salon’s owners have announced they will not be opening when Chicago moves into Phase 3.

“It just seems strange that an industry where you’re spending an hour, maybe more with a person — you cannot social distance at all — would be one of the first industries to open,” co-owner Lauren Kieninger said. “I would rather save potential lives than worry about my finances.”

She said she and her business partner would be more comfortable coming back to work in Phase 4 of the state’s reopening plan, when she hopes experts will better understand the virus and how it spreads. The salon has secured a federal loan to keep it afloat in the meantime, and her employees are getting some money from an online fundraiser.

But Kieninger acknowledges staying closed might not be possible for every business.

“As a salon owner, I know I’m making the best decision that I can for my staff, but I’m not going to say that my decision is right for everyone,” she said. “For some people that haven’t gotten financial help, it’s their only option.”

Mariah Woelfel is a reporter at WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter at @MariahWoelfel.