Since closing his salon March 15, Sokol Delaj has had a tough time getting by.
The owner of Delaj Hair has spent the past months of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown making a few house calls when he could to certain older clients, styling hair in backyards or even parks. But even that wasn’t enough for Delaj to get by — especially in the long term.
But with the start of the city’s second phase of reopening a little more than two weeks ago, Delaj was able to put most of that behind him. Now his West 238th Street doors are open — but the experience is much different than what it was before. And once again, there’s only one thing to blame: the coronavirus.
“I am very lucky that I have a great staff, and that they are all coming back,” Delaj said. “We will be doing smaller jobs for clients so that they will not have to stay for so long.”
That means no work that requires a long visit, because Delaj only is taking a few clients a day, with just one allowed in the salon at a time. He must sanitize his space before and after each client just to maintain the level of cleanliness required in this “new normal.”
Everyone wears masks — both Delaj and his clients. His employees also wear gloves while working. When a client arrives, they have their temperatures checked, looking for fever, although the coronavirus can spread even if someone is not showing primary symptoms like a fever.
Earlier this week, New York City finally entered the third phase of reopening, part of the guidelines established by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to help keep the entire state on the right side of the coronavirus pandemic that’s now ravaging most of the rest of the country. New York City was one of the last regions in the state to begin reopening, which makes sense because of the city’s density, and the fact it accounted for a vast majority of the overall coronavirus cases in the state — and for a few months, the country.
According to reopening guidelines established by the state, salons can’t allow more than 50 percent total occupancy, and must maintain six-foot distances — except when actually cutting hair or providing other services. No salon is allowed to have waiting areas, and lines are discouraged. Walk-in customers who can’t be immediately served are sent away, with a time they can return.
Delaj has booked his appointments online, and at least in the beginning, it seems most of his clientele are younger than what he’s normally experienced.
Angelita Suriel, however, is a little more old-fashioned, preferring appointments by telephone rather than by computer.
The owner of Angela Beauty on West 231st Street, Suriel finds talking to her clients on the phone allows her a chance to understand specifically what they want, making it all the faster of getting customers in and out.
Like Delaj, Suriel spent some of her time during the shutdown doing house calls where she could, primarily for clients who have been loyal to her for the last two decades. Yet, as convenient as it might have been for these clients to have Suriel show up at their door, it just wasn’t something she could keep doing in the long run.
“I made these house calls because some of these clients are more than customers,” Suriel said. “They are like family.”
Now back in her salon, Suriel has each station placed six feet apart using dividers. Only one customer is allowed inside at a time, and everyone must wear a mask. As an added level of safety, Suriel has clients wash their hands the moment they arrive.
“We cannot have a waiting area or a coffee station,” Suriel said. “These were things that we had for great customer service, but we cannot have them until everything gets better.”
The bathroom at the salon is consistently disinfected, but Suriel discourages anyone from using it unless they must.
Staffing has changed quite a bit for Suriel. Last year, the salon started offering spa services like massages, nails and facials. Now she’s unsure when these services will return, even though they’re permitted in the third phase. As of now, however, she’s had to delay bringing in her employees who specifically provide spa services.
The “new normal” isn’t a real normal for her yet, Suriel said. But she’s finding it easier and easier to have a more positive outlook as New York progresses forward on the other side of the pandemic. “We are taking things one day at a time to see what happens.”