April 25, 2020 / 4:33 AM / a month ago

As Georgia re-opens, an Atlanta-area salon tests limits of social distancing

MARIETTA, Ga. (Reuters) - A dozen customers lined up outside the Three-13 Salon, Spa & Boutique in suburban Atlanta on Friday morning, each standing six feet apart and eagerly awaiting their first haircuts or colorings since the coronavirus pandemic forced Georgia to lock down.

Before being allowed to enter, staff members took each customer’s temperature and asked a series of questions: Do you have a cough? Have you recently had a fever? Has anyone in your house been sick or quarantined in the last 14 days?

Each client then received a colored sticker, indicating clearance to enter the building, located in the northern suburb of Marietta.

The scene - like others playing out across Georgia - was part of a test case in the reopening of the slumbering U.S. economy a month after stay-at-home orders were put in place across most of the country.

To date, the virus has claimed about 50,000 American lives, including more than 880 in Georgia, where non-essential businesses including barber shops, salons and bowling alleys were allowed to open their doors Friday under an order from Republican Governor Brian Kemp.

The order has stirred objections. A number of mayors across the state said it comes too early and creates an unnecessary health risk. President Donald Trump, a key political ally of Kemp, said this week he was “not happy” with the decision. Some business owners have simply decided to remain shut.

But at Three-13 salon, which has been in business for more than four decades, co-owner and manager Lester Crowell decided it was time to get back to work. He said he consulted with his 85-member staff during a meeting held in the parking lot that he ran from the back of a pickup truck, megaphone in hand, and found all but a few supported reopening.

“We’ve been hurting real bad,” said Crowell, 63, estimating he had lost about $450,000. “As of today, we’ve been closed for 33 days. My employees had to go on unemployment and worry if they could make ends meet. I had to dip into my own bank account to keep the lights on here.”

Hairdresser Rachel Costello, 31, of Marietta, colors the hair of customer Lisa Doss, 57, of Cartersville, Georgia at the Three-13 Salon, Spa & Boutique after it reopened from coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions in Marietta, Georgia, U.S. April 24, 2020. REUTERS/Rich McKay

A longtime customer, Lisa Doss, 57, said she was eager to get back to something at least approaching normal.

“I haven’t had my roots dyed in a month. Look there’s what, an inch of gray showing?” said Doss, a retired office worker. “I had to wear a hat everywhere I went.”

But the salon is not exactly the same. Customers sit six feet apart, they are given disposable gowns and there are far fewer staffers helping customers, about half the normal number of stylists and technicians. On a normal Friday, about 300 customers would come through the salon. This day, only about a third of that number were expected.

About 20 miles south in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood, Thomas Barber Shop owner “Tommy” Thomas, 69, has been cutting hair for about 50 years. He said he hated to stop during the lockdown.

“Yeah, I’ve got to cut hair and make some money,” he said. “I’ve got to pay rent and I’ve got to pay my barbers some money to help them out.”

The first hours on Friday, he said, had taken some adjustment. He wore gloves to cut hair, something he said he disliked. He wore a mask.

Still, he said, “I’m going to comply with our government and do what we need to do to be operating.”

Other shops were not as eager to reopen. Across Marietta at The Barber and Style Shop, owner Sandra Haynes, 44, said, “It’s too soon to open, but I have no choice. If I stay closed my customers will go somewhere else.”

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She was open on Friday for business by appointment only. No walk-ins, no waiting area.

“I usually do about 22 cuts a day,” said Haynes, who mostly does men’s hair. “I know it’s going to drop way off. But what else can I do?”

Reporting by Rich McKay and Julio-Cesar Chavez in Atlanta; Editing by Leslie Adler

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