Long Beach hairdressers forced to feel like criminals amidst salon closures

By Liliana Ulloa Santos (She/They) 

Like a movie scene based on the 1920s, many Long Beach hairdressers took to sneaking in clients for services like lawbreakers asking for a secret password in clandestine liquor gambling bars during the prohibition-era. Ordered to shut their doors once again in December when ICU beds hit capacity due to the interminable spread of COVID-19, Long Beach hairdressers once again struggle with the financial burden and mental breakdowns that come with this second salon closures. 

A local hairstylist who chooses to remain anonymous for this article, claimed they followed the mandate the first time around, as they didn’t want to be responsible for spreading the virus. This time, however, they refuse to shut down and have secretly sneaked in clients as their only choice to make ends meet.

“I feel like a criminal just for doing my job, I can’t even post pictures of my work,” the anonymous hairdresser said. “The first closure, I had to take a job at a local fast food joint just to survive, but I figured I had way more chances of spreading and catching the virus with the hundreds of people I helped a day, than with the couple of clients in my salon. I am no stranger to proper sanitation of spaces and tools after every client! No hairdresser is.”

Short-notice closing and reopenings also cause high-stress situations for hairdressers, who have to answer to loyal clients with just as much uncertainty on how long another reopening could last.

Marie Rolla, a long-time hairdresser at Freebird’s on Pine, says her strategy during the first closure was to fit two-week’s worth of clients in a couple of days just to be financially prepared for a longer shutdown than initially expected. She continued that strategy for the second closure, claiming at least this time they were given a two-day’s notice and an explanation on how the closures would take in effect. 

“That gave me time to be able to cram in appointments,” said Rolla. “I was going in from like 8 a.m.-10:30 p.m. every day pretty much, and just no break, just cranking them out. I collapsed at the end of the week but at least I was able to save up money to survive the shutdowns.” 

Through the “haircuts are okay in the middle of the sidewalk” phase last summer, many hairdressers took their chairs outside to provide haircuts in scorching heat and continue to cater to clients who just needed a haircut no matter the location.

“When they told us we can operate from the sidewalks, I literally facepalmed,” said the anonymous hairdresser. “My salon doesn’t even have a sidewalk or a parking space! My salon is much more sanitized than a sidewalk. No hairdresser I know felt that made sense, especially because a lot of salons have more than 3 hairdressers who can’t all fit on a damn sidewalk.” 

Lora, @_southern_discomfort on Instagram, “Doing that weird apocalyptic outdoor hair cutting thing today ? @freebirdslbc

During the sidewalk hair salon times, other hairdressers opted to instead do at-home services to better serve their clientele demand and properly carry out their other hair services besides simple haircuts. Rolla shared a similar sentiment as the anonymous local hairdresser, claiming she felt like she was breaking the law just for doing her job and trying to make ends meet.

“It was scary and it felt so stupid that, like, I felt all afraid that my neighbors or someone was gonna call the police on me for operating in my home,” Rolla said.  

“I couldn’t post it online in case somebody hated me and wanted to fuck with me, so it was scary in that sense. I could’ve technically lost my license for cutting from home and there was a bunch of fines involved, it could’ve gotten me in some trouble. So that was kind of weird and scary, but they also weren’t giving us any better situations and unemployment was a joke,“ Rolla said.

A conscious member of her community, Rolla expressed feeling a conflicting view of the bigger situation, claiming hairdressers who are privileged enough to have money saved up or eligible to receive government benefits, shouldn’t be working unless truly in need.

“Since I had my savings I’m trying my best to not work illegally,” Rolla said. “I do feel like its actually a pretty safe situation at the salon but, you know, I’m trying to respect the Safer at Home order as much as I can if I’m financially privileged enough to do so. I’m getting really frustrated seeing rich white ladies that are like, ‘It’s my right to work!’ and being all maskless and crazy and refusing to shut down because of their rights when they don’t really need the money.”

Rolla also applauded the rest of the community, who she claimed respected the mandatory mask rule and were open and detailed about their level of exposure, while also adhering to the stricter sanitation protocols. The government deserves no applause, however, due to their predatory loans which only put small businesses and self-employed folk into more debt while shamelessly bailing out corporations and keeping malls open for normal holiday consumerism. 

“I don’t really feel like the government has included us in a lot of the conversations like the bar industry, the entertainment industry and the food industry. I do feel like the beauty industry doesn’t get looked at the same and I think part of it is because it’s one of the only industries out in the world that is a female-dominated industry and just like sex work and stripping, is getting totally ruined by the pandemic, it’s a lot of these industries that are primarily female industries that no one is really talking about or really backing at this time,” Rolla said. 

While hair services aren’t necessarily essential, many clients use hair services as a form of self care throughout this stress-inducing pandemic. WIth little or no means to survive otherwise, hairdressers take what they can get from loyal clientele during these turbulent times.

“We aren’t just hairstylists,” the anonymous local hairdresser said. “We’re therapists, we’re a homie, we don’t judge you. Yes, hair services can even be considered a privilege at this time when people are so short of money, but most hairdressers in this community don’t have the means to completely shut down with no financial help or compensation from the government during closures.”

In this unorganized, poorly-communicated disaster that seems to have no end, it is important that as a community, we continue to support local businesses and follow the basic safety protocols that reduce covid spread and can get businesses normally operating again. While the government continues to neglect small businesses choosing to provide the bare-minimum, which in most cases, doesn’t even cover rent, judging hairstylists on the measures they must take to get their money is immensely insensitive. 

To support hairdressers during the closures, you can buy a gift card for future services or products in their salons. If you think you saw a hairstylist sneak in clients in their salon, remember that no, you didn’t. 

Liliana Ulloa Santos (She/They) is a resilient mother of color. Journalist. Makeup Artist. Sex Worker. Not necessarily an expert on any subject, but instead, serves as a human version of random Snapple facts. A versatile writer, Ulloa’s passions range from sports journalism to advocacy for marginalized minorities. In their free time, Ulloa enjoys experimenting with makeup and obsessing over creating a five-star island on Animal Crossing.