Sunlight beams through the wide glass windows onto masked customers waiting to have their hair washed and styled at various hair salons in Muncie. Stylists, muffled by masks, talk with clients about families and long days at work while dryers blow and water pours into shampooing basins.
Meraki Style Studio
As part of the country-wide lockdown in March 2020, hair salons, including Meraki Style Studio, were forced to shut down to prevent the spread of COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hair salons were among the most high-risk locations because hair stylists work in such close contact with their clients. For months, stylists had to innovate ways to see their clients safely. Some cut hair outside the salon, and others opened their homes to customers while their salons were closed.
Che Hopkins, owner of Muncie’s Meraki Style Studio, said he was at work when he heard salons would have to shut down in March 2020. Because COVID-19 was new at the time, Hopkins said, he didn’t service any clients from his home and followed the guidelines set to socially distance himself from people outside of his home. Hopkins said it was a “godsend” when the state allowed hair salons to reopen mid-May 2020.
“It really took me by surprise,” said Hopkins, who opened the studio in October 2020. “It was surreal to actually be at work and to hear about going out of work [and being] shut down. You have to think about how to pay my bills at home, how long this was going to last, and it was just a real eye-opener.”
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, stylists at hair salons and barbershops should stay at least 6 feet away from clients and coworkers when possible and frequently disinfect stations and tools.
Adjusting to CDC recommendations, Hopkins and his five stylists at Meraki put safety precautions in place at the salon to keep their customers safe. He and his staff members do a “one-in-one-out” method of service to customers, with each stylist seeing one customer at a time. Patrons are required to wear masks, and stylists sanitize hair stations before and after each visit.
Prior to owning Meraki, Hopkins worked at Divine Designs Salon & Spa in Muncie for 13 years before the owner dissolved the business to work somewhere smaller.
Now at Meraki, Hopkins said, it’s very enjoyable to run one of the city’s few hair salons that specializes in African American hair. Hopkins said he has built his salon around faith to dispel any drama that stereotypically comes with an African American salon.
“You hear about a lot of people in salons who have a lot of mess going on in the background, but we don't have that problem,” said Hopkins, who earned his cosmetology degree in 2005 from Hair Fashions by Kaye’s Beauty College in Indianapolis. “We have very good staff, and everybody has a positive attitude. There's really no downfall to it, and I love the people.”
Hot Heads Hair Design
Tena Rees, owner of Hot Heads Hair Design in Muncie, said it was financially devastating for COVID-19 to shut down hair salons. However, she was glad the state erred on the side of caution because she didn’t want to take the chance of catching or spreading the virus.
Rees, who grew up loving fashion, hair and makeup, has been in the cosmetology business for 39 years. After graduating from Amber’s Beauty School in Muncie in 1982, Rees studied entrepreneurship at Ball State and has owned Hot Heads Hair Design for 30 years.
“I love interacting with my clients,” said Rees, who also owns Hot Heads on Campus in the basement of Ball State’s L.A. Pittenger Student Center. “I like meeting new people, hearing their stories and giving them a really good style … A lot of boys are getting curly perms. There are some celebrities, like Patrick Mahomes, who are wearing curly hair. And then, girls are getting pixies.”
The capacity at Hot Heads Hair Design has remained at 50 percent because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rees said her stylists work in separate rooms to keep her customers safe and socially distanced while taking 15-minute breaks in between customers, and the salon provides cloth masks in case a customer needs or breaks theirs.
To remain safe, Rees said she had to cut down to two stylists working at a time instead of four. Since owning Hot Heads on Campus since 2016, Rees said she believed the school needed a styling salon and presence on campus.
“It is very beneficial to students to have a campus location [because] many of them don’t have a car to navigate to a salon off campus,” Rees said.
Although working from home is not ideal for some cosmetologists, Jenna Jackson has been styling clients from her at-home salon, Shear Joy, since 2016. The Muncie resident also worked for Craig & Friends in Upland, Indiana, for 13 years, but, since July 2020, she has seen clients solely at her home studio.
“It has been the best decision I could have made,” said Jackson, who is a mother of four. “It feels like the best of both worlds — as soon as I’m finished with a customer, I can step right into family life, and my kiddos know they are always welcome to come in [the salon] even if I'm working.”
Operating from the back of her house, Jackson requires her customers to wear masks at all times, sanitizes each tool after every use and gives her clients a new, clean cape after each visit.
When Jackson tested positive for COVID-19 in March, she couldn’t work with her clients for two weeks. She said it took time to reschedule her appointments, but her clients responded with kindness and grace.
“I appreciate their flexibility, so it makes me extra willing to work them back in,” said Jackson, “It's give and take. I know, sometimes, my customers need to cancel on me, and I'll have grace for them as well.”
Jackson said her favorite request from a client was from her first appointment as a hair stylist when a college student asked her to shave his head and leave a 6-inch Mohawk to dye blue. He told Jackson he liked to do something fun with his hair once a year to honor his mother, who died from cancer.
Being in the cosmetology business since 2006, Jackson said she loves the conversations she has with her customers and the one-on-one connections she feels with her clients.
“I've learned over the last few years that it's not just about doing hair — it's about the people [and] the connections made,” Jackson said. “The hearts of my customers matter so much more to me than I ever could have realized. My job is a joy.”