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San Francisco

SF's hairdressers, aestheticians left without income in COVID-19 crisis

Haircuts, mani-pedis and facials are not considered essential services under San Francisco's shelter-in-place order, which went into effect on March 17 and will continue through April 7 – an additional California stay-at-home order is currently open-ended – to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

That means at least three weeks of no income for the city's hairdressers, manicurists and aestheticians, many of whom already operate on thin margins with the city's high commercial rents.

"No one who has been making a business plan thought this would happen," said hairstylist Emily Baedeker, who operates a Mission pop-up salon, Florette. "It's unprecedented."

Baedeker, a single mom, had just managed to find a space for Florette in November, with a year-long agreement to share the storefront of Zoë Bikini (3386 18th St.)

Like many stylists, she's an independent contractor who only gets paid when she works. She's responsible for paying her own health insurance costs — a struggle with no income coming in.

And even if she is able to go back to work in a few weeks, schools could remain closed, which means she'll need childcare for her son as she meets the demand from all the appointments she's had to cancel.

"The expense of living here [in San Francisco] is one of the biggest reasons I am unable to sufficiently save money for times like these," she said. "It’s even harder when there is only one of me."

At Edo Salon. | Photo: Ruby C./Yelp

Aesthetician Katie Woods is the owner of Hayes Valley's Ritual Skincare (120 Hickory St.), where she offers services like facials and hair removal. She said that the shelter-in-place order is especially difficult because she doesn't know when it will end.

"It makes it incredibly challenging to plan ahead," she said. She's facing a near-total loss of income, while owing rent on "a space that I can't even use," she said. 

Baedeker expressed gratitude that Mayor London Breed has instituted a  moratorium on evictions for small and medium-sized businesses that are unable to pay rent as a result of the COVID-19 closures. "We all have a level of anxiety," she said.

Katie Woods of Ritual Skincare. | Photo: Ritual Skincare

As the crisis wears on, both women are adapting. 

Woods launched an online store on Sunday, offering curbside pick-up, delivery and shipping for the local skincare products that she normally sells at her studio.

She's also been taking her business online in a different way: "Virtually, I also offer online skincare consultations as well as courses and consulting for other industry pros," she said.

Baedeker has begun selling gift cards online, and created a GoFundMe campaign for clients who want to help support her, her son and her two pets while she weathers the crisis. 

"People want to help," she said. "That’s what’s been really beautiful."

At Church Barber. | Photo: Teresa Hammerl/Hoodline

Many other salons are encouraging customers to buy gift cards and pre-pay for appointments, including the Lower Haight's Edo Salon and Divisadero's Belli Capelli

"It’s a tight squeeze on the industry, [so] please consider pre-paying for your next appointment if you can," Mission salon Dreamers and Make Believers wrote on Instagram.

Salon owners say they're trying to think positively about the potential rush of clients upon their return, as gray roots, unvarnished nails and overgrown locks continue to grow in self-isolation.

"We look forward to a line of scruffy friends outside of our door when we return," Hayes Valley's Church Barber joked on Instagram.

In the meantime, Woods and Baedeker are hoping the relationships they've built over the years can help sustain them through tough times.

"Hairdressers have a relationship with clients," Baedeker said, noting that many of her regulars have reached out to offer assistance. "It’s personal."

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