Matt Weatherford of W+Co Salon says many of his customers were tired of tyring to cut their own hair. Having closed his salon in March and reopened in June, he requires that his customers wear masks, and he regularly wipes down and sanitizes the work area. Photo from W+Co website

Hair salons and barber shops are among the businesses that have been most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The shutdown was rough, because this is my only source of income,” said Matt Weatherford, proprietor of W + Co Salon, 930 1/2 Chicago Ave.

“Having people call me and ask my advice on how they should cut their hair has been interesting. I can try to walk through with them doing that the best I can, but I can’t guarantee that it’s going to look like A, B or C,” he said.

Mr. Weatherford closed his salon in mid-March 2020, just before the larger-scale shutdowns took place in Chicago and Evanston. He re-opened the salon in June.

“I was hearing the reports and I just thought, ‘This is going to get really bad, and I just need to circle my wagons a little bit,’” he recalled of his decision to close. When he was back in business, his salon made some necessary pivots.

“I had to have everything cleaned, and [require] masks, and re-arrange the salon a little bit to make sure that I was completely socially distant from my colorist,” Mr. Weatherford explained. 

The first month back was fairly busy, since Mr. Weatherford’s clientele began catching up on haircuts they had put off. But business tapered off during the second month and has “ebbed and flowed” ever since, he said. The last part of 2020 –  Halloween through New Year’s Eve—was not as busy as it is most years.

“I kind of figured that would happen,” Mr. Weatherford admitted.

He and his colorist have long been the only people staffing the salon. Most precautions they have been taking are business as usual.

“The State Board has pretty strict regulations for us anyway,” he noted. “Our tools, shampoo bowls, and work stations have to be wiped down anyway. We follow that religiously, and make sure we check all the bowls. Any surface that a client touches gets sanitized immediately and masks are required – that’s a given.”

Mr. Weatherford has turned away some clients who refused to wear masks. “If they didn’t feel comfortable with that, I don’t feel comfortable with them in the salon.”

Prior to the pandemic, he would serve clients beverages; he has had to discontinue that practice. He also no longer does beard trims.  “We’ve got to do what we can to keep healthy and safe,” Mr. Weatherford said.

The shutdown last spring at least allowed him to polish up some professional skills. If customers come in with tall orders, such as wishing to leave the shop “being completely different” or having a more “low-maintenance” look, “I have to be prepared. This gave me a bit more time to do more education. I was trying to be as productive as I could be as a professional.”

Customers returning to the salon are grateful for his extra precautions, and Mr. Weatherford said that they have shown much appreciation that he is there to do his job.

“They say, ‘I tried to cut my own hair, and it’s not easy, and I tried to cut my husband’s hair or my child’s hair, and that was a train wreck,’” he said. “[Cutting and styling hair] is definitely a skill. You have a lot of education for it that you have to hone.”

Indeed, one of the biggest challenges to doing a person’s hair, Mr. Weatherford said, is being able to carry on a conversation while you do it. “People said, ‘I don’t know how you talk to me and do my hair at the same time.’”