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'We are essential': Guelph businesses talk about new demand for personal care services since reopening

'There's been a lot of emotional labour in the last three months about when we could go back, how we could go back and how we could function,' says Nighthawk Tattoo owner Laurie Stewart

Within 48 hours of reopening business, local tattoo parlour Nighthawk Tattoo had 239 voicemail messages from new and returning clients about booking an appointment.

“I didn’t even think the machine could hold that many messages,” said Laurie Stewart, the owner of Nighthawk Tattoo, who is now booked solid with appointments until August.

“It’s good to know that when we're coming back, people still want tattoos," she said, "It’s kind of like coming off probation, everyone wants to have a little chunk of something.”

Since personal care services in Guelph, and across Ontario, have been able to reopen during the second phase of the Reopening Ontario Act, GuelphToday reached out to a variety of these businesses to learn how they are navigating the new demand. 

Those looking to book a haircut, manicure, piercing or tattoo, may need to be patient as some businesses work longer hours and extra days to keep up with appointments. 

“We have a backlog of catching up to do,” said Stewart, noting some clients have had appointments bumped two or three times during every shutdown.

"I haven't seen some people in 15 months."

Stewart mentions the response and workload has also been a little overwhelming.

“It's not like everyone is getting the same thing, I’m drawing something different for every client," she explains. "That's a little daunting, but we can manage, all I can do is try."

Stewart notes for a lot of their regular customers, these appointments are also highly personal too.

"You can't just sit in a room and do tattoo, and inflict pain on people and not have something stick to you," said Stewart. "You get invested in people's lives and so that's the emotional labour of this.

"And there's been a lot of emotional labour in the last three months about when we could go back, how we could go back and how we could function."

Allison Christie, the owner of Chez Allison Organic Salon, says she spent five days booking clients in for hair appointments after learning the reopening date. Currently, 30 clients have been scheduled.

“My email exploded, my phone exploded,” says Christie about the response, “I am booked until the second week of August.”

Christie also obtained 40 new clients during the pandemic, despite only working seven weeks last year.

“It’s unheard of,” she said.

Currently, hair salons can only operate at a 25 per cent capacity, which can increase wait times for appointments. Some salons contacted by GuelphToday have reported being booked until September.

Christie adds some hair stylists are standing for ten hours a day while working, which can take a physical toll on the body. 

Despite how taxing it can be on the body, she mentions it is nice to feel needed and wanted.

“They’re literally counting down the days,” said Christie about customer reactions.

At Mickey Nails Guelph, manager Trung Nguyen estimates the salon has booked about 100 appointments and also turned away about 100 due to the demand.

“We’re all booked tight,” said Nguyen about business, “It’s like they haven’t done their nails in years.

“They’ve been so excited and happy, saying, ‘I’ve been waiting for so long!’”

While some customers come looking to get custom nails done, Nguyen explains a lot of customers rely on their services to maintain personal hygiene, like regular pedicures for those older or with a disability.

“A lot of people say even though it’s personal care, it’s important to them,” said Nguyen, “It’s mutual relief.”

With many clients coming into the salon, Nguyen said he and staff have begun opening early and closing around nine or 10 p.m. Online, the salon is booking appointments until midnight or 1 a.m.

“We’re making up for lost time.”

With this being the third time personal care services have had to reopen during the pandemic, Rino Basciano of Barber Rino’s Men's Shop hopes it will be the last time.

“I hope the importance of this industry has gotten through to the powers that be,” said Basciano, a second-generation barber. “Everyone feels good when they get a haircut, everybody feels good when they have their nails done, any pampering is good for your personal well-being, your mental health.”

When personal care services closed, Basciano mentions seeing many people take a downturn without these services to help them feel better. 

“Everyone who comes into my shop is like, ‘Oh, I feel 10 times better now that I can get a haircut!’” said Basciano. “And I’m sure the nail salons and hair salons, their customers are saying the same thing.”

Besides having a loyal clientele return to his shop for a haircut, Basciano has seen a lot of new customers. He speculates this is due to other barber shops retiring or going out of business.

“The situation has forced them into making a decision they might not want to make right now,” he said.

Basciano explains many shops and salons were not supportive of the decision to close personal care services. Even before COVID-19, he mentions businesses have long been practicing health and safety measures.

“We always wipe down our chairs, we always wipe down our countertops, it’s what we do, we always offer a safe, clean environment for our customers," said Basciano. "The only thing different is wearing a mask.”

As the province continues moves toward step three, Basciano wants political leaders to understand the personal care service industry is essential.

"We are essential," he said, "Deeming us unessential, I don’t know what the criteria was that deemed us non-essential, but we are an essential service, we are an essential industry."


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Ariel Deutschmann

About the Author: Ariel Deutschmann

Ariel Deutschmann is a feature writer and reporter who covers community events, businesses, social initiatives, human interest stories and more involving Guelph and Wellington County
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