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Barber shops, hair salons welcome back customers

Groton — Binet Cuts on Poquonnock Road welcomed back customers on Monday with a “new normal” in place.

Wood-and-plexiglass partitions separated each hairstyling station, where barbers wearing face masks attended to their clients’ hair.

Customers arriving for appointment-only services had their temperatures taken, sanitized their hands, and also wore face masks. A new system with wireless buzzers alerted customers waiting in cars or outside that it was time for their appointment.

Owner Omar Binet was glad to see customers again and said Monday felt like the “grand opening.”

“It’s really exciting to re-open today,” he said.

Gov. Ned Lamont had initially said barbers and hair salons could reopen May 20, but two days before that he delayed the reopening until Monday with required safety protocols in place. Monday was the first opportunity for residents to get their hair cut, though some hair salons and barber shops have set a later reopening date.

Chance Wilson of Groton, who was getting a haircut at Binet Cuts on Monday and first had scheduled a May 20 appointment, said it felt good to get a haircut in time for the summer and his job search.

“Without haircuts, people can’t go look good for their interviews whenever the jobs open back up again,” he said. “Without barbers or without any of these guys doing their trades, this town wouldn’t work together.”

Wilson said Binet was making the shop clean and safe for everyone, and pointed out safety measures, such as employees wearing Personal Protective Equipment and the new buzzers so people don’t wait inside.

In Mystic, Adesso Hair Salon Owner Rose Turano said she is following the list of required safety protocols, including wearing a mask and goggles and having hand sanitizer. Clients wait outside until she tells them to come in and they wear masks as they get their hair done.

While Turano was looking forward to getting back to work, she also felt a bit nervous and couldn’t sleep the night before the re-opening. But once she came to the salon and saw her regular clients, she said she felt OK.

“It was a little different, but we’re all adults and we’re all responsible, and I feel like we’re all doing the right thing to stay safe,” she said.

Turano runs the salon by herself and said she is at an advantage for social distancing as she sees one client at a time.

Jessica Koehler, a longtime client of Turano’s, said she felt more comfortable at the salon, than at a grocery store or pharmacy.

“It’s a very comfortable spot, and I knew she was by herself so that made a difference,” she said.

Koehler said she liked safety protocols, such as customers waiting for a phone call before coming in to the salon.

“I feel like there’s time to clean, and everything that can be done is being done,” she added.

At Jeffrey’s Barber Shop on Bank Street in New London, much of the aesthetic remains the same — shiny hardwood floors, staff in white dress shirts and black tuxedo vests — but there were noticeable changes as a result of guidelines put in place by the state. As owner Jeffrey Zapata cut the hair of Cynthia Salgado of Jewett City, one of his first clients since reopening, he wore a face mask and face shield.

“I knew he was going to do what he needed to do to reopen his business,” Salgado said.

Zapata said he felt excited to be able to reopen. His son, Kenny Peña, an employee at the barber shop, noted that his father was “booked all day” with appointments.

After opening the Bank Street shop in January only to be forced to close a few months later in mid-March, Peña said its been a nerve-racking past couple of months for staff there not knowing when they would be able to return to work. He said the shop has changed some aspects of its business to make the experience safer for its clientele.

Jeffrey’s is requiring clients to make appointments in advance, not allowing people to walk in for haircuts for the time being, and only allowing three clients in at one time.

Kiesha Murphy, owner of Bravado Barbershop and Spoiled Salon on State Street in New London, plans to reopen Thursday.

One of the major changes will be requiring clients to wait outside until their stylist or barber is ready for them.

“Barbershops are used to having as part of their culture people come in, they socialize. Not being as social will be one of the biggest differences,” she said.

Murphy said she wants to keep as much of her operation as normal as possible, not wanting her shop to look “surgical,” while also assuring her clients and the community she’s abiding by all the guidelines to reopen safely.

Though she’s booked until the end of July, Murphy said she and the other stylists will be seeing fewer clients than usual because stylists can only handle one client at a the time whereas in the past while a client was waiting for their hair color to process, for example, a stylist could tend to another client’s hair.

“I’m still nervous about how lucrative this is going to be under these restrictions,” she said, adding that she hasn’t received any unemployment benefits and has had no income coming in since being out of work on March 13.

Anita Pinder, owner of “Its All About Hair” on Shaw Street in New London, is a one-woman shop. She said many of the state guidelines were practices she was already doing at her salon and said much of what is taught in cosmetology school involves best practices for cleanliness and sanitization.

Pinder is planning to officially reopen her salon Tuesday, but was doing the hair of longtime client Carla Arrindell Monday as a test run, she said. She joked that there were a few glitches and that she had to run home to Groton to get a few supplies she’d forgotten.

She said her clients like Arrindell are eager to book appointments.

“My phone has been ringing off the hook,” she said, including calls from new clients who’ve never come to her salon before.

Elaine Viens, 67, of Uncasville said she was very happy Connecticut hair salons finally got to open Monday.

Viens has been coming to Details Hair Studio at 16 New London Turnpike, in Norwich since 2012 and felt confident owner Heidi Duff would follow all COVID-19 safety and cleaning protocols.

“Heidi’s the best,” Viens said. “Things will be safe and secure.”

Duff complained publicly two weeks ago after Gov. Ned Lamont ordered a delay in the original plan to allow hair salons to open May 20. She had purchased all the required protective equipment and cleaning supplies and adjusted her workspace and schedules before the governor ordered the delay.

Details was busy Monday, and Duff said by 1:30 p.m. the salon already had made a full day’s worth of money. She said she did not raise fees to cover the cost of additional supplies and cleaning protocols. She hired a new staff person to help staff the desk and handle added cleaning. The salon has six total staff, with three, including one new hire, staffing the front desk and doing cleaning and three “on the floor.” Details also is reserving certain traditionally non-busy times for COVID-sensitive clients.

Duff said she was disturbed that at least a dozen new customers called her shop since Saturday after learning their regular hair salons had closed permanently.

Duff recently renovated the second half of her salon as a spa, but that cannot yet open. The spa has stations for makeup, facials, body waxing, pedicures and manicures and aroma touch. “We’re waiting to hear,” she said about opening the spa. “As soon as we hear we can do nails.”

Platinum Cuts at 189 Central Ave., Norwich, also wanted to open May 20, owner Harrison Faison said.

“The ones that were ready should have been allowed to open, and those not ready could have stayed closed,” Faison said.

During the closure, Faison complained publicly and to Norwich Public Utilities officials that his utility bill for March seemed just as high as if the salon had been open for the entire month, rather than closed for half the month by state order, with most lights off, heat turned down and no dryers running. April’s bill was much lower and more in line with what he expected.

Faison said most customers have worn their own masks, but he gives cloth masks stamped “Platinum Cuts” to those who don’t have them. He said working around the masks is easy, just requiring unhooking one ear loop at a time for quick work around the ear. Duff said she uses surgical tape to hold the mask on when she has to remove a loop to work on an ear.

Faison too said he has not raised his fees and will absorb the cost of added protective equipment and cleaning supplies. He ordered the required disposable aprons, but they haven’t arrived. He’s cycling through aprons to start.

“I thank God that I don’t have to scramble anymore,” Faison said. “I’m back in business.”

Kyla Adams, the owner of Home Salon & Spa on Long Hill Road in Groton, said strict safety protocols are in place. People go through a health screening and sanitize their hands before entering the building. Staff wear state-recommended Personal Protective Equipment and disinfect areas between services.

After being disappointed and put in a financially uncomfortable situation when the state announced two days before May 20 that salons could no longer open then, she was excited to finally reopen on Monday.

“It feels fantastic,” she said. “We are really excited to get back to doing our craft.”

She also said clients were feeling grateful that the salon was taking care of their hair.

“They’re just grateful to have us open, and they’re grateful that we’re willing to take the chance with such an uncertain climate,” she said.

Day staff writers Julia Bergman and Claire Bessette contributed to this report.

k.drelich@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version corrects the spelling of Jeffrey Zapata's name in a photo caption.

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