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‘Everything is over the top’: How O.C. hair salons work through the coronavirus

After nearly 25 years in the cosmetology industry, Travis Vu became a first-time business owner — opening TravisVu the Salon in Fountain Valley two years ago.

The coronavirus outbreak put a strain on his business the last few months, as it did for many, with shutdowns enforced across the state to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“The first month, I thought, ‘It’s OK. Maybe just one month and they can open again,’ but when they start to [get to] the second and third month, I’m like, ‘Oh, my God,’” Vu, 47, said. “It got so depressing.

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“I got so stressed out, and I’m worried, because all the bills, we still have to pay. None of them give us any break, even the rent. Everything. We were really stressed out when it got to May and we’re not open yet.”

When barbershops and hair salons were allowed to reopen in late May, the Anaheim resident had deferred rent that he needed to pay. Then a surge in coronavirus cases made him close his doors again this summer.

After securing a permit from the city, TravisVu the Salon on Warner Avenue opened again for business last week. Three chairs were set outside under the shade of a roof for clients to arrive after having booked appointments.

Ice water with lemon and wrapped refreshments were put out on another table.

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“We’re lucky that we have this kind of roof, and the direction of the sun” allows for shade, Vu said. “So it’s very cool, and [Mile Square Park] right across the street is very nice, so breeze is coming all day long.”

Marlys James-Jolly, 70, of Long Beach joked that her hairstylist was able to take 10 years off her appearance after receiving a haircut at TravisVu on Saturday.

“[It was] a huge relief, and I could relax about what my hair is going to look like,” James-Jolly said of being able to get a professional haircut again. “I’ll come back in five weeks, and if that’s outside, that’s fine too. I like it being outside, if you want to know the truth. I wish they would continue with that.”

Orange County public health officials said there have been more than 36,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the county and more than 640 related deaths since the pandemic began.

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The state has issued comprehensive guidance for barbershops and hair salons to reopen. Outdoor operations can take place under a tent, canopy or other form of sun shelter that has no more than one side closed. That is to allow outdoor air movement.

Customers are to be screened and asked not to bring others to appointments. There are also extensive requirements for cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and equipment.

Denise Konopelski, 64, of Seal Beach decided to work with a friend to rent a suite in Huntington Beach through Sola Salon Studios. Their salon remains closed because it is not on the ground floor.

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In the meantime, Konopelski said she has taken to giving haircuts at home.

“Everything is over the top, but I feel that if you do everything over the top, then you’re following the rules,” Konopelski said of the guidelines for operating. “With sanitation as such a big thing, everything has to be washed. I’m forever washing everything, but I just am going overboard so that I can’t get in any trouble, and of course, I have to keep my clients safe, and I want them to feel safe, so it’s a real clean environment.”

Huntington Beach Mayor Lyn Semeta said that the city has ramped up its messaging to urge the public to utilize masks. As for the stringent guidelines for hair salons and barbershops to conduct business, Semeta believes that an eagerness to get back to work will lead to compliance.

“I think that people are very motivated to try to be open if they can, so at least there is a path forward for if they’re willing to go through … putting all those guidelines in place,” Semeta said. “I know in the city of Huntington Beach, we try to be very facilitative to allow businesses to open under the guidelines while keeping them safe, and these guidelines certainly are going to make sure that happens.”

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Newport Beach Mayor Will O’Neill said that as of last Tuesday’s City Council meeting, permits for outdoor services in the city had been issued to 69 restaurants. He added that permits were in progress for three hair, nail or massage businesses.