EAST GREENWICH, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Rhode Islanders could be slightly more than a week away from having fresh color and cuts again ─ if Gov. Gina Raimondo gives the green light to enter Phase 2 of her plan to reopen the state’s economy.
When you enter Arous Studio, a hair salon on Main Street in East Greenwich, it’s easy to see how the 3,000 square-foot space is a safe haven to hundreds of Rhode Islanders.
“It’s a community,” Owner Arous Parker said.
After a devastating fire a few years ago, Parker rebuilt her salon with a New York City feel to it. Her goal was to create a place where people can simply get away and feel at peace.
But like countless other shops and businesses, that’s all been on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.
That’s why she’s looking forward to reopening on June 16 ─ which is 15 days after Raimondo is expected to give the OK.
The additional delay has already caught attention from her clients.
“It happens to be that our cutting stations are about 8-to-12 feet away from each other, so of course the clients are like ‘Aren’t you ready? why aren’t you re-opening?'” Parker said.
But Parker said she’s simply not ready to reopen yet, and while one might think a hairstylist like herself would be ecstatic to open her doors right away, she was a little surprised to have such short notice.
“Our governor did a great job but it’s a very short notice to give us nine days to get everything,” Parker said.
She said others in the hair industry had known they could possibly reopen sometime in June, but feel like they haven’t received much direct guidance besides that. Parker said she would have loved to be a part of that conversation with state officials.
As soon as Raimondo made the announcement that hair salons and barbershops could reopen on June 1, Parker said the phones began to ring off the hook, but she had to tell her clients to wait a little while longer.
“When I tell you I got a hundred phone calls,” she explained. “We could not keep up with two phones, we were answering people and telling them ‘Look, that’s when we are going to be ready.'”
Parker said before the announcements, she was looking at the guidelines available in neighboring states to prepare.
Across the border in Massachusetts, salons and barbershops are allowed to reopen on Monday, as long as they follow state guidelines.
But despite her efforts to get ahead, it will still take time to fully be ready.
Parker said she doesn’t have enough masks right now, which will be a must for anyone who enters the salon.
“I don’t have all the PPE pieces together, I don’t have the whole list because some of the shipping, as you may know, it’s been taking forever,” she said.
She also has to figure out more logistics.
“I’m still waiting for the shield to come in and the color area I still need to separate, we’re waiting and we’re doing our best,” she said.
Parker said she’s eager to see her clients, even if things will be different. But she, like many other salon owners, are concerned about possible COVID-19 exposure.
“We have the computer, advanced programs with contact tracing, I can tell you when the client came, what hour, what services, but do we tell all the clients that were there that day? Do we have to quarantine ourselves?” she questioned.
Eyewitness News reached out to the Rhode Island Department of Health to find out what salons and barbershops would have to do if a client or employee tested positive.
“There would not necessarily be a required closure,” spokesperson Joseph Wendelken said. “It would be like any other workplace. The person who is sick would have to isolate, and their contacts would have to quarantine. This might result in some businesses opting to close, but a closure would only be required if we deemed that the business’s continued operation represented a public health risk.”
Parker said she is hoping to receive hair specific guidance soon and looks forward toreopening on her own terms.
The Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training tells Eyewitness News hairstylists will still be allowed to collect partial unemployment, as long as they don’t exceed their underlying benefit rate, since they won’t see as many clients as usual.
Meanwhile, spa owner Alayne White said she is OK with playing the waiting game for reopening, especially since there aren’t clear guidelines for when spas can reopen.
As a beauty business that offers facials and other skin services, she said she is comfortable waiting until at least August to reopen, and that safety is her number one priority.
Raimondo said she’s aware that Rhode Islanders have been waiting to hear when hair salons and barbershops will reopen, and she’s reminding everyone that it won’t be like this forever.
She also commended Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor for his efforts to work with businesses, including those in the hair industry.
“I am highly conscious of the burdens that this is going to put on you, so it’s for a limited period of time,” Raimondo said.
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