British Columbia

A 'COVID fee' with your colour and cut? How your hair salon experience may differ as businesses reopen

More protocol, less pampering and higher prices — including a possible "COVID fee" — are among the things in store for clients who head back for personal services at outlets reopening across parts of B.C. this week.

Expect higher prices, less pampering for personal services

Significant reconfiguring of Zazou Salon and Academy, in North Vancouver, B.C., means it will operate at half capacity to ensure physical distancing for stylists and clients during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Visiting a favourite barber, hairdresser or aesthetician will be a far cry from what it used to be before COVID-19 took hold and forced salons to close in mid-March. 

More protocol, less pampering and higher prices — including a possible "COVID fee" — are among the things in store for clients who head back for personal services at outlets reopening across parts of B.C. from Tuesday.

"We're going to have reduced productivity, reduced capacity," said Bruce Peters, owner of Zazou Salon and Academy in North Vancouver, B.C., which is set to reopen on Wednesday. 

Salon operators are now required by WorkSafeBC to have a COVID-19 safety plan that outlines the policies, guidelines, and procedures they have put in place to reduce the risk of transmitting the coronavirus that causes the illness.

For hair salon customers, that means just the basics and no perks during appointments. 

Bruce Peters, owner of Zazou Salon and Academy, says a two-month closure due to COVID-19 cost his shop hundreds of thousands of dollars. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Protocols in place 

Zazou Salon has changed how it'll operate to ensure the safety of stylists and clients through physical distancing and other safety measures. 

Only every second work station will now be in use, so the salon has gone from 19 chairs to nine.

Clients will wait outside the shop until they are waved in or phoned to enter. 

Reception desks will be behind Plexiglas barriers.  

Clients and staff must wear masks. 

There will be no magazines, beverages, talking during shampoos, scalp massages — and possibly no blow-drying of hair. 

Michael Gibson, the co-owner of Brush Salon in Vancouver, says his Gastown and East Vancouver shops will open on June 1. 

Gibson wants to ensure proper spacing, barriers and supplies of masks and sanitizers to run his business in a safe space. 

"It's going to be very different going back," said Gibson, who has removed some work stations and moved the remaining chairs 2.1 metres apart. 

Michael Gibson, co-owner of Brush Salon, says the pandemic has particularly hurt his newly opened second location because when he should be growing business, he's having to cut back due to COVID-19 restrictions. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

WorkSafeBC won't review or approve the plans of individual salons, but in accordance with an order from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, the plan must be posted at the business. 

During WorkSafeBC inspections, operators will be asked what steps they've taken to protect workers. 

Cost increases 

Both Peters and Gibson say weeks of being closed and readjustments to open up have led to huge financial losses. 

Gibson says price increases between five and 10 per cent are inevitable to cover the cost of protective gear and reduced capacity.  

At Zazou, Peters says he's "toying with the idea of a COVID fee" that may range between $5 to $25 per guest visit. 

He worries staff will make nowhere near the money they made before the pandemic and he has to consider how they will be compensated. 

"They have to make money. The company has to make money," he said. 

"If we're not profitable, we will have to close our doors." 

Zazou Salon concierge and marketing manager Janine Cannon awaits the installation of a Plexiglas barrier to separate her from clients at the front entrance reception desk. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Petition against opening 

But not everyone in the hair and beauty industry is ready to return to work. 

"I don't feel safe right now," said Sarah Rae, a Pender Island stylist, who started a petition urging the government not to send stylists and barbers back to work. 

"Why is it in everyone's best interest to include workers who can't socially distance?" she said of B.C.'s plans to reopen businesses. "Why is that necessary?" 

Pender Island hair stylist Sarah Rae says she was stunned that her industry was among the first to get the provincial government's OK to go back to work. (CBC)

The provincial government announced that hair salons could reopen in mid-May as cases of COVID-19 continued to trend downward in the province. 

At the time, Henry said salons were getting the green light to proceed under strict guidelines, but the decision on whether to open was left to individual operators. 

Overwhelming demand

As they prepare for reopening, both Zazou and Brush have extended their hours of operation to handle the demand. 

Zazou Salon's team of 50 staff is already booked for May and halfway through June.

Brush Salon has been inundated with email from people "desperate" to get their hair done. 

"It's going to take a little bit of time to fit everyone back in with having less capacity and people in here at the same time," said Gibson. 

Salons vow to provide freshly sanitized gowns, towels, tools and work stations. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

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Belle Puri


Belle Puri is a veteran journalist who has won awards for her reporting in a variety of fields. Belle contributes to CBC Vancouver's Impact Team, where she investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community.