By Janice Nesamani
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
You’ve had a rough work week and a reward sounds good—for most women (and some men), there’s probably nothing more comforting than sinking into a plush massage chair and entrusting your hands and feet to the care of a nail technician at one of the many nail salons across the city. A warm soak and some TLC later, your hands and feet look and feel ready to take on the world again.
But in a world where we have retreated into the safety of our homes, rely on the protection of our facemasks, and subconsciously maintain a distance of six feet from others, something as routine as getting a manicure or pedicure is not as comforting as it once was.
Just like restaurants and the travel industry, the nail salon industry has lost some of its varnish.
Lynn Tran is the owner of Wynn Nail Spa in Issaquah. Pre-pandemic, a weekend appointment was something that would be tough to get, but if you did manage to make your way into one of their massage chairs, your nail technician would offer you a glass of wine to go with the pampering you were about to receive.
Today, while she has managed to find some normalcy by swapping out her wine glasses for throw-away plastic cups and having masked and gloved technicians scrub away at customers’ hands and feet across plexiglass barriers, things weren’t looking too good a few months ago.
“We all had to go on unemployment when the shutdown was announced in March,” Lynn said.
In the summer, when things got better, she was happy that they could open—much better than keeping the shop closed. However, business was bad.
“We saw an almost 50% decline in business when we opened, things got a little better in the summer, but then cases went up again and we now have to operate at 25% capacity,” Lynn said.
“Earlier I had thirteen girls working for me, but now I have only eight,” Lynn said. Though she decided to cut hours instead of jobs. “Some of my girls left because their husbands got laid off, and they needed the insurance or because they had to make the decision to stay home and look after their kids who now had to attend school from home,” she said. “A few others left because they couldn’t make ends meet due to the reduced hours,” Lynn said, adding that she would really like to hire them back when things get back to normal.
Lynn was very particular about having safety measures at the salon. Bottles of sanitizer greet you when you enter, masks are mandatory, and seats and equipment are sanitized after every customer. That’s what’s keeping employees safe and customers comfortable.
“We have had to increase our prices by $5 to pay for the extra costs though,” Tran added.
Waiting to get her nails done at Wynn Nails was Betsy Alementor, a retired paraeducator who’s a regular at the salon.
“They make you wash your hands before you do anything, they have screens put up, and they make everyone wear masks. That’s important to me. I see how the pandemic has impacted them because I’ve been here when there were only two people in the salon,” she said.
Lynn is cognizant that she is among the lucky few who have seen loyal customer support carry her through these tough times.
Kathy Tran (no relation to Lynn Tran), who owns Seattle Nail Supply, a beauty supply store in International District, says her business has taken a hit because of the tough times being faced by nail salons in the city. “Honestly, my loyal customers are doing really badly, and I think it’s the same for every nail salon today,” Kathy said. She knows of many salon owners who have had to cut employee hours or ask them to share hours because business is so bad.
“Sales have seen a 75% drop, and it’s roughly the same for salons,” Kathy said. “For my business, I have tried and succeeded in keeping all my employees working their normal hours. I have tried my hardest to do it, but it is difficult,” she said.
In the meantime, Kathy has trained her staff to sanitize the store, wear masks, and use hand sanitizer to keep them safe. “I’m hoping that the vaccine comes out soon, so things can get back to normal,” she said.
For Lam Huynh, who owns and runs Sen Salon on East Madison Street, the stakes are high. Hers is a family business that has been operational since 2004 and she is stressed by the downturn in business.
“Our sales went down 25% and I had to let go of half of our staff.” Huynh has had to trim her budget and staff. “Without her regular volume of customers, she has resorted to opening an hour later and closing a little earlier, too.”
Between scheduling efficiently and speaking to her landlord to allow her to pay lower rent until business picks up, Huynh has to ensure the health of her staff and customers.
“So far, my staff is taking care of themselves very well. I often remind them to maintain social distancing and wash and sanitize their hands,” she said. So far, her salon has seen no infections and her customers are appreciative of the measures she has taken.
When asked if she hopes the holiday season may have things looking up, Huynh is skeptical.
“We haven’t seen a rise in sales during the holidays as people are still scared,” she said. To drum up business, she even offered a special Black Friday discount, but says with sales being low, she doesn’t have the bandwidth to offer any more deals.
“Sales in winter are normally low and I don’t see things looking up until May,” Huynh said. “I hope the government can help, but so far we have to try to survive with what we have as there is nothing we can do. Everyone is struggling,” she said.
While news of the vaccine has her looking up, she said, “I think some things are here to stay, I see us wearing masks and putting up barriers in our salons for a while.”
While we’re all looking forward to the day when the masks slip off and the barriers come down, a little support may keep your local nail salon in business long enough to pamper you… when things get back to normal.
Janice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.