How an Atlanta Hairstylist Set Up Her Own Salon to Stay Safe

As Georgia reopens, workers are caught between losing their unemployment and getting themselves and others sick. Here’s how one hairstylist is handling it.

by Julie Goeddeke; as told to Hannah Smothers
May 5 2020, 11:00am

Lia Kantrowitz

On April 20, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp announced certain businesses in the state would be allowed to reopen that week, including bowling alleys, tattoo parlors, and hair salons. Public health officials agree that it’s objectively way too soon to reopen any business—and that's especially true of high-contact services in a state hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and with some of the worst testing rates in the country. With unemployment and pandemic loans virtually yanked from the table, Georgians now face the impossible choice of saving their livelihoods, or keeping themselves and their neighbors safe.

Scrambling to respond to Kemp’s order, the Georgia State Board of Cosmetologists and Barbers quickly issued a four-page document detailing strict regulations that any shop that reopens must follow to keep employees and clients safe. The measures include daily temperature checks for all employees and clients, removing waiting areas, maintaining a distance of six feet between each salon chair, properly disinfecting each salon station between clients, and mandatory protective gear for employees.

Julie Goeddeke has worked as a hair stylist in Atlanta for 15 years. Amid the state reopening, she chose to leave the salon where she’s worked for the past five years. Given the regulations, her former salon’s compact, 10-seat layout would’ve made it impossible for all stylists to work at the same time, as is common on busy weekends. Goeddeke talked to VICE about the new challenges she faces doing her job as her state reopens in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic—and how salons won’t feel normal again for a long time.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

My heart dropped when Kemp announced that Georgia would be reopening—it was this gross feeling. It felt political. The randomness of what he chose to open is really strange. Why open up places where people actually touch other people? It feels like they just don’t want to pay us unemployment.

The state board's reopening guidelines are insane. We have to be six feet apart, which doesn’t work for a salon with 10 chairs that are all next to one another. In order to make that work, maybe three stylists could work at a time. Some salons are trying creative ways to suit the new regulations; one salon that put clear shower curtains up between each booth.

Another stylist friend and I decided to leave our old salon and rent a room in a loft that caters to salons and studios. It came together in a matter of hours: A neighbor gave me the phone number of another girl who works in this space, I called her, and that day, we went and had to make a decision to rent within 10 minutes. There are so many stylists looking to get their own smaller spaces, and this was the only one available, so we jumped on it.

"I don’t know how to cut hair in gloves! It's going to suck."

It’ll just be the two of us sharing a single chair in the same room. We’ll work different days and have one client in at a time, with no waiting area. I’ll ask people to come alone—before, I had clients who brought friends to drink wine and talk with, and moms who brought their kids when they didn't have childcare—and clean everything between each appointment.

I’ll have to sanitize the station between clients and let the sanitizer sit for at least 10 minutes. I also have to wear what a nurse would normally wear—and find that stuff myself. A mask, gloves… I don’t know how to cut hair in gloves! It's going to suck. I’ll just have to get used to it.

Before all of this, I could do a hair color, then two haircuts, back to back to back. Now, we can’t double-book, and with sanitizing each time, I’ll end up seeing about half the people I normally would in a day. The income definitely won’t be what we’re used to.

We don’t know yet when, exactly, we’ll open. We’re putting clients on a list for June at the earliest. We were never going to come back in May; we’re still waiting for case numbers to go down. When I made the announcement that I definitely wasn’t going back in when Kemp reopened last week, I actually had people reach out to me and give me money just for doing that. I take it to mean they appreciate me caring about their safety and health, unlike the governor.

Even though we’re in a single room, we should wait outside while our client’s hair processes. We won’t be able to sit and talk to each other anymore. That takes the closeness out of this—what I love most about my job is the connections I have with people. I’ve been doing everyone’s hair for 15 years. I know everything about them; we laugh, we cry. My clients are like my family. This job is all I’ve ever known. I couldn’t imagine not doing it.

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