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fresh salon

Ashley Edwards, owner of Fresh Salon, on Oakwood Road.

Sometimes the farther apart we are, the closer we become. Or at least that’s the thinking for area salon owners.

An intimate industry has remained steady — if not stronger — even during the most unintimate of times. And some of those business owners say if the pandemic that has engulfed the world for nearly a year has demonstrated one thing, it’s that the need for human interaction can’t be underestimated.

“You have a lot of people who come in who’ve been in their homes for nine or 10 months and they only come out for their nail appointment,” said Ashley Vaughn, the owner of Polished. “Our clients missed us, they have relationships with us. They wanted to see us to talk about everything and just be around somebody.”

The story of Vaughn’s salon is a good example.

It had just moved from a smaller location in Kanawha City to a larger facility off Bridge Road only to have a government-mandated shutdown begin in March. And yet, Vaughn — who’s owned Polished for five years — said business has been “pretty good and has continued to do better.”

This has happened despite her doors being closed for seven weeks and a face mask-wearing environment in which the old “No shirt, no shoes, no service” signs seem downright quaint.

“I think we did so well just because women wanted to come in and talk,” Vaughn said. “There’s nothing going on. They’re not getting their nails done for weddings or vacations or anything — I think people just really wanted to come in and vent about what was going on.”

There’s the natural assumption to speculate on what could’ve been in an otherwise normal year. But that’s balanced by the realization of the harsh struggles being experienced by other industries — even those that don’t require direct contact between service professional and client.

Of course, that one-on-one interaction requires extra measures to ensure safety.

For some that means installing additional facilities such as extra shampoo areas or divvying up work stations into private suites. The flow of foot traffic has been rerouted at many area salons, with some having clients wait outside until their scheduled appointments or even coming in one door only to exit through another. Some salons are also opening earlier than usual in order to accommodate clients who are anxious to be around others.

The niceties have become scarce, as well, with the frequent practice of offering up drinks or snacks being shelved. Still, when compared to the harsh alternatives, that’s a nominal sacrifice.

“It was already a safe, clean environment with high standards but it was taken to an even higher level during the pandemic,” said Carie Hamm, a Polished client for more than two years. “I feel completely comfortable coming to the salon regularly in spite of the pandemic because of the measures they take to keep it safe and uberclean.”

That doesn’t mean it’s all about shiny nails and lavender shampoos — don’t forget about that pandemic. As Ashley Edwards, the owner of Fresh Salon, put it, “Sometimes it gets a little intense.”

“I have a client whose husband was in ICU in a medical coma for two months from COVID,” Edwards said. “It was very emotional for her. To have someone besides immediate family — having someone to listen and not give an opinion — has been really, really big. To come to the salon, vent frustrations and confirm and just have someone to listen to.”

That communication is a two-way street.

The consensus among some salon owners is the most important thing they’ve done during and since that seven-week shutdown was to maintain contact with their client base. As expected, that usually means shipping messages en masse via email or social media that pertain to upcoming specials.

Or, in more frequent cases as the pandemic continues to linger, it’s sending a personal note between appointments that has little or nothing to do with manis or pedis or haircuts.

“We were just talking about this — it’s made us a lot closer with our clients,” Vaughn said. “Last week, we had at least five clients come in and just cry, just vent. We’re definitely closer to them than we were before because we’re all going through this together. We’re just closer.”