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Local Black Hair Stylists Are Temporarily Moving Their Salons Online

Provided | Canesha Henry
Black-owned barbershops, beauty and nail salons are among the businesses taking a financial hit due to the coronavirus.

Barbershops, beauty and nail salons are places where people can meet with friends and relax. They’re also a staple in the black community.

But the coronavirus pandemic has brought such small-scale beauty services to a screeching halt. Barbershops, nail and hair salons are included on a list of businesses that were forced to temporarily shut down because they’re considered nonessential. 

Canesha Henry, a licensed hair stylist in Illinois and Missouri, said that since she closed her Belleville salon in early March, she’s lost roughly $5,000 in income.

She’s worried about whether there will even be a business to come back to.

“Are they going to find somebody else when this is all over?” Henry asked. “Will they forget about me? Will I go from having a booked clientele to having to completely rebuild my business?"

Her concerns are warranted, given the coronavirus’ huge impact on the economy. 

Historically, black-owned businesses have faced many uphill battles, including access to safe and affordable capital. One of the biggest hurdles is securing bank loans to start and maintain a business. According to data from the U.S. Federal Reserve, more than 50% of black-owned businesses were denied bank loans. That’s in comparison to 25% of white business owners.

Galen Gondolfi, a senior loan counselor and spokesman for Justine Petersen, a local nonprofit that works with small-business owners, said the coronavirus pandemic has only made those disparities more apparent.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to a head historically entrenched problems when it comes to access to capital,” Gondolfi said. “And I do believe that African American entrepreneurs have always been at a disadvantage in fostering those relationships. And now that the pandemic is indeed here, if anything, it’s exacerbated that problem.”

For Henry, the closure of her beauty salon has required her to get creative. She's stocked up on products and put together hair “survival kits” for her clients. The online sales are allowing her to get by.

That added financial security is something that Healthy Hair Solutions President and CEO Tendai Morris is trying to teach other black hair stylists in the region about to help generate revenue. She said a lot of predominantly white salons are selling their clients shampoo and conditioner to help with hair maintenance.

“Black hair stylists have not been introduced properly to retailing to their clients, and I’m looking at that now, like, 'Wow, this is an amazing opportunity for me to show them how they can retail to their clients and not solely depend on head to head to head,'” Morris said.

She’s been doing hair for more than two decades and works part time at Salon Prive in Creve Coeur as an independent contractor. She said when she started hearing more about the coronavirus, she stopped taking clients. 

“I was like, listen,” Morris said. “I don’t want to get anybody sick, plus I don't want to catch anything.”

Since then, she’s pivoted to selling her natural hair care products online, livestreaming hair demonstrations and taking time to answer her clients’ hair questions.

“My main concern was my clients and their ability to maintain their hair,” Morris said. “I kind of feel like l’ve been preparing them for something like this for a while, because my goal every time I sit with a client is to educate them on how to take care of their natural hair.” 

While most hair stylists are trying new ways to earn income, some continue to make house calls or work out of their homes. Canesha Henry said she even had a client who hoped she’d make an exception for her.

“She said, ‘Canesha, are you still working?’” Henry said. “She had a standing appointment a couple of weekends ago. And so, I was like, ‘No, basically for the safety of everybody.’ And she was like, ‘I figured that, but I was hoping different.’ It was through text, so I was able to brush it off, but originally I was kind of like, ‘Oh, wow!'” 

Both Henry and Morris said everyone should take the coronavirus seriously. 

“I have one life,” Morris said. “I have one body. I have a family, and so I have to try and take care of myself. And I’m really cautious about being in personal spaces right now.”

Follow Marissanne on Twitter: @Marissanne2011

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Marissanne is the afternoon newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.