While they largely understood why they were shut down, they didn't think they'd still be shut down two months later

    As Crookston Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Terri Heggie stood at the podium in the city hall council chambers this week, urging the Crookston City Council to draft a letter to Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz asking that he hustle up efforts to allow businesses to reopen safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, a contingent of local hair salon owners and hair stylists sat in the back row to show their support for a chance to reopen their shuttered businesses/places of employment.

    They were a somber-looking bunch.

    “I am not even sure where to begin with this,” Head East Salon owner Kari Trudeau said when the Times reached out to her and other salon owners and hair stylists after the council meeting.

    They’re dealing with a lot, obviously, and if a theme has emerged as they discuss their stresses and struggles due to the required shutdown of their businesses, it’s that they took it in stride early on because, back in mid-March, they had no idea that mid-May would arrive two months later and they’d still be unable to work.

    “At first I was thinking, ‘Well, OK, I don’t take many days off, so let’s get some long-overdue projects done,” said Carrie Larson, owner of Hair Connexion. “So I did.”

    Her projects were finished weeks ago.

    “So, here we are, eight weeks in, and I have done some curbside gift certificates and a little bit of retail for my clients, and of course everything helps when you have absolutely no income,” Larson adds.

    Talk to enough small business owners or workers considered independent contractors, and you’ll hear that securing unemployment benefits is a whole different ballgame compared to people who are simply considered employees and their work is adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent business closures.

    Larson says she was able to, finally, receive some unemployment compensation, but not until several weeks had passed.

    Trudeau said six weeks passed with still no unemployment benefits. She applied for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds, but all of the money was gone.

    She said not being able to be open and earn money in the spring is a major gut-punch to hair stylists. “Spring is a huge money-maker for us,” she said, adding that proms and graduations have all kinds of young people wanting their hair to look its absolute best. “Not only do the kids want to look good, but many moms are getting cuts and colors, too,” Trudeau adds.

    And wedding season is fast approaching. Will there be any actual ceremonies?

    “That will be a major loss, for sure,” Trudeau says.

    People might think they know what a hair stylist is, or how to define what they do, but Larson and Trudeau say it’s about more than just making someone’s hair look nice.

    “It is about making people feel good about themselves,” Larson says. “And, seriously, just my everyday conversations with all of my amazing clients. So, financially, this is not fun at all, but also missing the thing I love to do most is sad.”

    Larson understands that going into the mandatory shutdown it was about “flattening” the COVID-19 curve. But two months is a long time, she says, and she fears there’s a possibility she won’t be able to welcome clients for some time to come.

    “It is not easy to sit and watch your business you built for 16 years sit empty, knowing 20 miles away the businesses are wide open,” Larson says. Like many other frustrated people who are out of work, she wonders how large businesses with lots of customers and employees are allowed to remain open, while a business that would involve her and one client in a room at the same time is ordered closed for two months, and counting.

    Trudeau, too, fears that clients will start to make the quick drive to Grand Forks to get their hair done. Clients are typically very faithful and dedicated to their stylists, she says, but there’s a limit to that loyalty.

    “I’m very appreciative that they’ll wait, but, seriously, how long?” she wonders. “I’m fortunate enough to be able to cut and color my own hair, and I can’t imagine how I’d feel having to wait this long.

    “I just want to go back to work,” Trudeau continues. “I miss my clients and being a part of their daily lives and special moments, and making them feel beautiful.”

    Larson offers similar sentiments.

    “I can’t thank my family and friends and clients for all that they have done for me,” she says. “I am truly blessed.”