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Through their own anxieties, stylists still calming clients worried about growing and graying hair

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Some hair salon and barbershop owners are selling gift cards and offering products for curbside pickup, and some also are offering free video consultations, but that's about all they can do for their businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

They're otherwise spending their time checking in on employees, filing for unemployment, wading through the bureaucracy of business assistance applications — and trying to persuade customers not to cut or dye their own hair.

"It's been almost a month now, and on a daily basis, people are still asking me to cut their hair," said Sean Lundy, a fourth-generation barber and owner of Lundy's Barber Shop in Uncasville. "And really all I can say about that is: The only reason you would need a haircut at this time is if it's hindering the proper fit of a mask you're supposed to be wearing."

One way he's trying to maintain his business while also giving back to others who are struggling is offering a discount on gift cards, so a gift card worth $100 would cost $80.

Lundy's wife is employed at Chelsea Groton Bank and working from home, so they still have some income and employer-sponsored health insurance.

Maria Moises still is working from home as a paralegal while her husband, Binet Cuts owner Omar Binet, is out of work at his Groton barbershop and has applied for unemployment.

Self-employed people like Binet traditionally are not eligible for unemployment benefits, but they are under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, the $2 trillion economic relief package signed into law March 27. But the state has not started accepting applications from self-employed workers; the Connecticut Department of Labor expects to begin doing so by April 30.

Moises said Binet has been telling people that the ones who can wait for a cut should wait. But for those who are still working and feeling desperate, Binet has been instructing them to do a classic look — meaning the same length throughout, and no designs.

Binet Cuts has 11 independent contractors who ordinarily pay rent on a chair in the barbershop, but Binet and Moises are not charging the barbers now.

Similarly, Chris Goslin of Bliss Hair Studio in Noank isn't charging her two hairdressers, but she still is paying rent in full each month. She applied twice for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan through the Small Business Administration and received the $1,000-per-employee advance Thursday, which she will use to pay a portion of May's rent.

Most salon owners who talked to The Day said their landlords are letting them delay rent payments, or forgo a month or more altogether.

Goslin is "very frustrated" with the mixed messages she's been getting about the Paycheck Protection Program. She was wait-listed with her bank, and the $349 billion Congress allocated ran dry this week.

She has given a few clients take-home coloring kits with their color formula, a Styrofoam bowl, a brush, gloves and application instructions. Since this is professional color with chemicals, Goslin said clients must sign a release that protects her legally.

Her attitude is that she'd rather offer direction and appropriate color than risk people buying professional color from a third party online and doing it themselves, and she gets that hair can help a person feel good. But she said some manufacturers won't allow salons to sell professional color.

Heidi Duff of Details Hair Studio in Norwich won't send professional color home with clients but also doesn't want them "running to the box at the grocery store and possibly creating more damage to your hair." So, she's promoting temporary color for covering gray hair, such as a spray, mousse or powder.

Duff's hairdressers are not independent contractors but employees, meaning they've started collecting unemployment benefits. She's been holding a Zoom meeting with them every week and furthering her industry education through webinars and tutorials. She was going to add a training center to her business this fall but has pushed that back to next spring.

Duff plans on bringing her entire team back as soon as she's allowed to reopen, and she has room for three more people to join. In the meantime, she said, any stylist in New London or Windham counties who needs an ear or a shoulder can call Details, which forwards to her cellphone.

Even when salons can reopen, Shelly VanOverloop of Vohana Salon in Mystic said things will be different, with fewer staff and clients in at once.

Some suppliers are shipping products directly to people's homes and giving salons a commission, something both Goslin and VanOverloop noted they're taking advantage of.

VanOverloop said she hasn't canceled people's appointments in the system because she wants to see week by week where things are headed, while Duff said she's keeping appointments in the queue both to show the government a loss of revenue and so she knows who needs service immediately when she reopens.

VanOverloop got approval Wednesday for the PPP loan, which means she will be able to put her staff back on payroll. She is a single mother with a 12-year-old, and she said being the sole provider for so long has taught her to save money both personally and for the business, so she's doing OK financially.

Jennifer Conyers, owner of LoKs Salon in Groton, will FaceTime her clients to show them how to cut their bangs but urges people to stay away from the box hair dyes, for fear they'll ruin their hair.

"Corrective color starts at $300, and I don't think anyone wants to pay $300 to fix what normally a $70 color would cost," she said. But Conyers said root touch-up spray for gray hair "has been selling like crazy" and people have been purchasing gift cards online.

She commented, "We were flourishing before this and I'm confident we'll flourish after."

e.moser@theday.com

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