By Mikkel Hyldebrandt

After being furloughed from the salon he worked at in March and asked to come back to work in early May, Michael Joseph decided not to go back. Instead, he resolved to create his own space where his health and safety were priorities for himself and his clients. Peach spoke to Michael about his decision and how the experience has been.

How was your line of work impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown?

I was furloughed from the salon I worked for on March 22 – the same day I was actively moving into a new apartment. It took nearly ten weeks to receive any unemployment compensation or Federal Stimulus. The salon I worked for reopened on May 9 and was, in my opinion, ill-prepared for various reasons. The new regulations and suggestions from the state board that regulates salons and barber shops, in my opinion, could not be adequately implemented while still allowing for stylists like myself to properly service guests, maintain sanitation and safety standards, and earn anywhere near what we were before the shutdown. Specifically, we are now only allowed to see one client at a time – no more are we able to fit in a haircut while a color treatment is processing. Salons are also being forced to reduce the number of stylists on the floor and splitting the weeks or days into shifts and reducing hours. On top of that, because of the additional sanitation requirements, we have to add on sanitation time onto the end of each client – that time adds up, and when time is money, it cuts into our income.

When Governor Kemp started to lift restrictions for some businesses, you decided to open your own one-person business. Why did you make that decision? 

Kemp reopened the service industry far too soon. This was a financial decision for the state, and I feel he used us as test subjects. I decided to open a private studio for many reasons, but it was mainly for the comfort and safety of my clients and myself as it is related to this. It was also a financial decision. I can now see my clients one-on-one, which significantly reduces risk, and I can set my own schedule and create more flexibility for my clients. After receiving partial payment from the state and the Federal Stimulus, I thought about what to do with the money and decided to invest in myself and create a better, safer, clean, and modern space for my clients. 

What was the process of making the decision to opening up your own place? 

I had been planning this for a while. Opening my studio was extremely stressful and was delayed several times. I called all my creditors, health and car insurance, and asked for a “COVID Break” in payments, and they were all very helpful. I had fellow stylist and barber friends who have been extremely helpful and encouraging, so I took the leap. I had difficulty getting all the things I needed to open. All the beauty supply stores were closed (and later vandalized) or out-of-stock on virtually everything – even online. It took weeks to get even one bottle of Barbicide disinfectant. My Mother, who is a licensed esthetician in Michigan, sent me several things that I just couldn’t find here or online. The cabinetry was delayed because IKEA was closed and way behind on deliveries. But the craziest thing was the focal point of my space – the wallpaper – a story within itself. Out-of-stock everywhere. But I eventually found it! I had originally planned to be open June 2, but I didn’t officially open until June 16. 

Now that you have been in your space, you have received clients, and you have followed the CDC guidelines – how has it been working in the new normal?

It’s been an anxious time. I have clients that were ready to come back and others who are still uneasy. I have busy days and very slow days. Working with a mask on isn’t comfortable, and I miss seeing everyone’s entire faces. I’ve become hyper-aware of cleanliness and am now Barbicide Certified in sanitation. 

Besides following strict guidelines in your shop, do you take other precautions in your personal life to limit the risk of exposure to COVID-19? 

I will just say that this whole thing is a learning curve for all of us. It’s about personal risk assessment and caring for ourselves and others when it comes down to it. It is also for me, a matter of keeping myself healthy, not just for my health, but also for my clients. I cannot afford to get myself or any of them sick. I was recently tested for both antibodies and the virus, and both were negative. I am considering getting tested monthly. I wear a mask in public spaces and maintain my distance as much as I can. I have more or less maintained a close circle of friends with whom I have gotten together with on occasion. For me, we all have to find a balance and take responsibility for ourselves while also considering the health and well-being of our friends and for me, my clients, and their families, and friends. 

What have been some of the lessons learned – good or bad – during this crisis?

Sadly, I have learned that people can be very quick to judge others based on their perceptions and what they feel someone else should or shouldn’t be doing. There has been a lot of selfish and irresponsible behavior, but there’s also been a lot of the “Keyboard Karen” phenomenon, which doesn’t help anything. It has put a strain on a lot of relationships. In a way, this pandemic has become another thing to divide some of us while bringing others closer together.

The good that’s come out of this is that it’s provided me an opportunity to do something good for myself and has shown me who my friends and supporters really are, and I am grateful to all of them.

What is some good advice you can give other businesses during this crisis?

Do the right thing. Listen to scientists and health professionals and your customers, then do what you feel is best for you and your business.

Book your appointment with Michael Joseph Hair Studio, located inside Salon Studios Midtown, at MJHS.salonstudios.com, email MichaelJosephHairStudio@gmail.com, and follow him on Instagram @MJHSATL.