When asked to think back to March – after businesses were forced to temporarily close due to the COVID-19 pandemic – salon owner Jim Koktavy can’t quite pin down how he felt.
“Honestly, it was surreal,” he said.
As the owner of Root Salon in St. Paul and Wayzata, Koktavy and business owners around the state were faced with something they had never had to deal with before: a global pandemic that prompted officials to place limits on public gatherings and decide what types of businesses could remain operating.
Businesses like salons, where stylists must be in close contact with their customers, had to completely close while places like restaurants were allowed to offer food through curbside pickup.
“I’ve never been through this before. We’ve had bad weather, we’ve had power outages, and I had a gas line break one time. We’ve had different things we’ve had to close for, but nothing quite like this,” said Koktavy, who has been working in the industry for more than 30 years. “And frankly, I really believed it was going to be for two or three weeks.”
During the past two months of stay-at-home orders being extended, Koktavy said he worked on a plan to safely reopen his shops once the state said it was OK.
Under Gov. Tim Walz’s latest plan, which was announced May 13 and is being called “Stay Safe MN,” retailers were allowed to reopen May 18 and group gatherings of 10 or fewer people are now permitted.
“The uncertainty has been definitely hard, but it’s great to start talking about things opening instead of things closing for a change,” the business owner said.
The state is also working on a plan to open service businesses like bars, restaurants, barbershops and hair salons beginning June 1.
“This will coincide with a significant increase in testing, tracing and isolating the virus in the state,” Walz said in his address.
Koktavy said his salon will have to adhere to plans from state health officials meant to safeguard customers and employees.
The business owner said he’s been fortunate to have some guidance from a friend whose career has focused on hospital safety and cleanliness.
“We worked hand-in-hand with her in getting masks for all of our staff and having kind of a step-by-step process,” he said.
Stylists at Root will wear face masks, Koktavy said, and will also be offered protective capes and a temperature sensor will be available.
“My business is 100% my staff,” he said. “I don’t have a good to sell or a meal to cook, so if I can’t keep my staff safe, I don’t have a business.”
There will also be a sanitation station near the front door and a wireless terminal will help cut down on interactions.
“From the time you walk in the door to when you’re walking out, you’ll be one-on-one with your hairstylist,” he said.
There will be no waiting room, and clients will sit at least 6 feet from one another at all times. Customers should wear a face mask and the salon will have extras available if they don’t bring their own.
To reduce capacity inside the salon, only every other chair will be filled and the salon will be open longer hours to provide more shifts. The extra hours will also give stylists time to thoroughly sanitize their stations in between clients.
“There’s a lot to this,” Koktavy said. “It’s a different world.”
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