SOUTHWEST HARBOR — When Mary McLaud attended beauty school 40 years ago, one of her teachers told the class, ‘You’ll be able to make it through everything, even in the Great Depression women got their hair done.’”
No one could have anticipated four decades later a virus would enter the world scene and the only way to slow its spread would be to keep a 6-foot buffer between people. Because of that distancing, women and men have stopped going to the experts to get their hair done, for now.
“My profession is one of the last professions that touches people,” said McLaud whose salon, Sargasso Salon Retreat, has been in Southwest Harbor for 23 years. “I closed officially on March 16.”
Most of her clients understood why. A week later, Governor Janet Mills issued an executive order for all nonessential businesses to close. In that order, nonessential businesses listed included barber shops, hair salons, tattoo parlors and massage facilities.
“People would call up and say, ‘I’d like to buy a gift certificate for $200 today,’ and I would just start crying,” said McLaud about how her regular clients responded to the news.
When Governor Mills issued the executive order, Melanie Lisy, who owns Studio 296, a salon on Main Street in Southwest Harbor, started canceling appointments she had booked through the end of March.
“April hit and I just did a mass cancellation via email,” she said. “My clients were really good about that … A lot of clients have been really great, pre-paying and getting gift certificates.”
One of Lisy’s regular clients, Shannon Snurkowski, a first-grade teacher at Pemetic Elementary, goes to the salon every five to six weeks to get her hair colored.
“I was supposed to go see her right before everything got shut down,” said Snurkowski. “I’m on week 10 or 11, way overdue … I’m wearing a lot of baseball caps.”
But, because of her job, she can’t keep her head covered all the time. Even though Snurkowski is not standing in front of her students in a classroom, she has been teaching remotely for the last three weeks.
“I’m still out in public,” she said. “I’m still teaching virtually. I still need to look professional.”
Snurkowski knew her natural grays were coming out when one student commented during a videoconference that her hair looked so different.
Over the last 15 years, Snurkowski has colored her hair to some degree or another and sitting in Lisy’s chair has been a regular part of her life for five of those.
“It’s a routine,” said Snurkowski. “I would make my appointment 6 to 8 to 12 weeks ahead. Melanie is so busy you have to make those appointments ahead of time.”
Some people have had a difficult time accepting the fact that McLaud and Lisy just aren’t able to do their hair color or give them a cut.
“I want to help them, but I can’t,” said Lisy, who continues to be contacted by clients at least once a week requesting service or asking about coloring kits. “I have a lot of clients that get multiple color highlights. My color is so specific you’d have to be ready right away. It gets complicated.”
She and her co-worker are already talking about how to shift their practice to make things safer for themselves and for their customers.
“It’s going to be interesting when we do go back,” said Lisy. “There are still some people who are going to be apprehensive about coming in.”
As full as Lisy’s schedule was before the salon’s doors closed in response to the Governor’s directive, it may be even tougher for customers to book an appointment once they open again.
When she spoke with the Islander last week, Lisy was looking at how to rearrange the salon to create more space between workstations. She and her co-worker have talked about scheduling clients on alternate days, limiting the number of people in the salon and taking more time with each one.
McLaud anticipates she’ll continue to wear a mask to work with clients because of the close proximity necessary to perform the job well, especially washing their hair.
“Really big salons all over the world right now are trying to restructure their spaces, so they’re 10 feet apart,” said McLaud, who is the only employee in her salon. “I really don’t think I’ll be able to go back until June.”
She has been able to qualify for the Paycheck Protection Program and makes a commission off selling salon products — one company recently doubled commission for sales — to make up for lost income.
An uncertain summer season has already resulted in one wedding cancellation that Lisy had on her calendar. It was scheduled to take place on the College of the Atlantic campus, which is now closed.
“We’ve only had one, so far, but I can only imagine that it’s going to snowball,” she said.
During this time off, the most Lisy said she has had since being in high school, she has been on the internet looking for new style ideas and taking classes to learn new techniques.
“All the hairdressers in the world have the opportunity to educate themselves and be really good when they do go back,” said McLaud.
They also may end up teaching a few people who just can’t wait until their doors open again.
“I’m chatting with a client right now who is getting ready to cut her husband’s hair,” said Lisy, whose advice for novices is to start slowly. “You can always cut it more, but you can’t glue it back on.”
Susan Buell doesn’t underestimate the talent it takes to be a hairstylist. She has been going to McLaud for nearly 15 years.
“I refer to her as a hair artist,” said Buell, who appreciates the conversation that is part of the appointment. “It’s an important function, not just to keep your hair from turning white.”
“I miss sitting in her chair and being with her,” she said about Lisy. “It’s a therapy session. I’m missing therapy.”
Those who share a home with a hairstylist will soon be the ones counting their blessings as the rest of the population learns to accept their off-color roots or the longer-haired version of themselves.
“Everyone except my husband and kids is starting to look a little shaggy,” said Lisy. “I had my son cut my hair. He wanted to do it.”