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Local salon industry finding ways to survive empty chairs

Chairs are empty, mixing bowls are devoid of color, flat irons are turned off and razors remain sharp. The doors to the salon industry are closed.

Hair stylists, nail techs and eyebrow specialists found themselves excluded from the essential list declared by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in mid-March to quell the spread of COVID-19.

Keeli Knight, a 10-year veteran hair stylist at Headlines Hair Studio in Port Neches, said the governor made the right move.

“I agree completely that we are considered nonessential, although it is a term that bothers me,” she said. “It isn’t a necessity to live, but it’s a necessity for me to live not for anybody else.”

During this time, Knight advises clients and the community alike to avoid box dyes and do-it-yourself hair cuts.

“It’s ending in chaos,” she said. “I am getting so many texts from girlfriends and wives cutting their husbands’ hair and they end up having to shave it off. It just goes to show people that we are valuable and the work we do is not easy.”

Groves native Deedra Young experienced this when she tried to cut her 2-year-old son Bodie’s hair last week.

“My husband shaves his head during summer, so he did it a little earlier than normal this year,” she said. “Our 2-year-old son needed a haircut. So I suggested a buzz for him, too. It was ‘male pattern baldness-meets-a child’ with scissors and a mullet.”

Young said the experience showed her that styling is a true art form.

“Stylists make it look so easy, but it’s not,” she said. “I appreciate my stylist more than ever.”

Knight said the best way to help the local industry survive COVID-19 is to be patient.

“If anyone wants to help us, the best thing to do is just wait for us,” she said. “Everybody’s hair looks terrible right now. I have two-inch roots on platinum blonde hair. I could easily call a friend of mine and get it fixed, but I’m not. We are trying to be part of the solution and not the problem.”

Knight, a mom of three, said she has never been away from the salon for more than three weeks.

“I am ready to be back, but only when it is safe for us to be back,” she said. “I don’t want to rush into normal and then be sent home to quarantine for another four months. I miss my chair and my clients, but the best thing for all of us is just wait it out.”

Amanda Smith is adapting to virtual classes by filming online teaching and practice videos for students.

Amanda Smith, program coordinator for the cosmetology department at Lamar State College Port Arthur, said while she agrees with the nonessential order, she knows the agony sitting at home is causing salon owners and her own cosmetology students.

“We are nonessential, but to our customers, to us, we are essential,” she said. “We just have to be patient, pull back and hope this passes soon so everyone can get back to work.”

Smith said while she has never taught an online class before, she is using this time away from the classroom to teach her students theory, execution and problem solving.

“I want them to know how to make it work,” she said. “I ask the students, ‘What is going to be your plan? How can you use this time to do some good or do something different? Some students are reaching out and creating how-to videos. Showing their clients how to style their hair or putting together specific hair products to deliver to clients. It’s all about the relationships and making a problem become a solution.”

Brooke Bellanger, owner of Spruce Barbershop in Port Neches, has launched several initiatives to help local businesses in Jefferson County and beyond.

Along with package deals, merchandise and T-shirt sales on the shops Facebook page, a donation website is set up to support local barbers and stylists.

“When all this happened and we had to close down, I was trying to figure out any way we could to make money,” Bellanger said. “I wanted everyone to be included and to help in anyway I can. A lot of people take this industry for granted, and we forget that a lot of us live client-to-client and service-to-service, and without that we don’t have any money. We don’t have help any other way.”