Opinion | Why I’m Reopening My Georgia Nail Salon

ALPHARETTA, GA. — Last week, Gov. Brian Kemp announced that some Georgia businesses can start reopening. I don’t always support Governor Kemp’s policies. And I disagree with the reopening of places like gyms and bowling alleys: It’s just too soon for those places from my perspective.

But as the owner of a 13-year-old nail salon here in northeast Georgia, I was relieved to hear that businesses like mine could reopen with precautions. To be clear, I’m still scared. But I have decided to open with limited, reservation-only hours, approving appointments only with clientele that my staff personally know and trust. Because the threat of Covid-19 is still real, I won’t be open to the general public for the foreseeable future. You can’t trust just anybody.

I don’t blame other shop owners who are waiting to see how this partial reopening goes before opening themselves. But I’m one of many Georgians easing back into work because we know that if we don’t our business might not come back and our staff would probably go broke. I’ve been having nightmares about it. To stay in business while potentially being completely closed all summer would require me to take on a crazy amount of debt that I and my two daughters, aged 3 and 6, can’t afford. I’m the main breadwinner for the household.

I applied to both the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program and the Paycheck Protection Program. I’m still in limbo. My banker was just as confused as me about the guidelines for receiving funds. Depending on which S.B.A. representative I spoke to, I got different guidance. So far, I have been able to receive $8,000. But I’m still waiting to find out how much help I’ll get. Given on the government’s bias toward big business, it doesn’t look like it will be enough to cover my utilities, rent and supplies without revenue. My rent alone is $3,000.

To do our best to stay a part of the Covid-19 fight, my shop will be going above and beyond the Georgia State Board of Cosmetologists and Barbers’ guidelines on reopening. It’s true that service providers like nail technicians are literally hands-on. It’s an intimate service. So I’m asking any of my clients who have compromised immune systems or fragile health — and those living with family members who are older or have questionable health — to remain at home.

For clients we do allow to come in, we’re doing all we can to craft a safe environment. Shifts will be staggered so that staff can be hypervigilant about cleaning all work stations before and after each reservation. Before approving appointments, even with the clients we’ve known for years, we’re going to screen them on the phone — asking about their health and recent travel. A two-way trust between us and the customers will be critical, which is exactly why we have the policy of seeing only the clients we knew well before the coronavirus began to spread.

Everybody who is approved has to come with their own face mask and submit to a temperature reading if they want to enter the store. And wash their hands for 20 seconds when they arrive and before they depart. Customers are also going to have to sign an agreement to contact me should anyone in their family experience fever, sore throat, tightness in their chest or other Covid-19 symptoms in the two weeks after their appointment.

There will be barriers between all work stations. And, of course, all of us on staff will be wearing gloves and masks, in addition to face shields. A maximum of six people (for example, three customers and three nail technicians) will be allowed in the salon at a time. No, it’s not a perfect solution for a service that requires direct touch. But we’ll be doing the best we can in our context — just like the liquor stores, the hardware stores and the food trucks that have been open throughout this time.

I moved to Georgia when I was five. And I’ve been working in the state since 2005. My staff is a multiracial group of African-American, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Filipino, Hispanic and other backgrounds. The safety of my daughters, my employees and my clients is incredibly important to me.

If Georgia’s partial reopening of the economy leads to an uptick in infections and public health officials decide we need to take a step back, I won’t have a problem with that.

But the scientists say that we may not have a vaccine for 18 months or more. We know that the economy can’t be in a coma for that long. Especially when the government has bailed out big businesses and corporate franchises, but not done much for community-based businesses like mine. So we have to begin to find a new normal, as best as we can.

Jenna Cao is the owner of Chateau de Nails in Alpharetta, Georgia.

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