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COVID-19

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With their salons closed, hair professionals are at loose ends

Bliss Hair Studio has been open in the Paulsen Building in downtown Spokane for about 18  years. Co-owners Molly Warmuth, left, and Peggy Trevaskis have seven  chairs they rent to independent hair stylists, meaning these stylists are all considered small business owners in their own right and cannot get unemployment benefits. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Bliss Hair Studio has been open in the Paulsen Building in downtown Spokane for about 18 years. Co-owners Molly Warmuth, left, and Peggy Trevaskis have seven chairs they rent to independent hair stylists, meaning these stylists are all considered small business owners in their own right and cannot get unemployment benefits. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

The storefront of Bliss Hair Studio is usually full of stylists chatting with their clients and women sitting with foil in their hair.

On Thursday the storefront was empty. The usual products that filled shelves were taken home, scissors stowed away, and sinks are empty.

Co-owners Peggy Trevaskis and Molly Warmuth closed the salon last week as part of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The pair opened Bliss Hair Studio about 18 years ago in the Paulsen Building on Riverside Avenue in downtown Spokane.

“We have a group of seven stylists, and we’ve all been together for a long time,” Trevaskis said.

Trevaskis and Warmuth rent booths in their salon to other stylists, meaning each stylist is a separate business.

“Each person is their own business under the umbrella of Bliss,” Trevaskis said.

Trevaskis and Warmuth met decades ago as young hairstylists at the same salon.

Warmuth always wanted to do hair for a living, ever since she was a girl styling her dolls’ hair.

“I just always had my hands in everyone’s hair,” Warmuth said. “There’s so many pictures of me curling my grandma’s hair, doing my friends’ hair for prom.”

During her senior year of high school, Warmuth started taking classes at a running start skill center and got a job at a salon when she was 19. Trevaskis had worked at another salon for a few years before the pair started working at the same place just weeks apart.

“Oh, I liked her instantly,” Trevaskis said.

“She’s always just been that person, that rock in my life,” Warmuth said.

After about six years working together but for someone else, the pair was ready to “spread their wings,” Trevaskis said.

Now, almost two decades later Bliss is like a “family” of stylists. The salon doesn’t have much turnover of stylists or clientele.

“We are so lucky we don’t have to do any advertising, just word of mouth,” Trevaskis said.

When the pair heard about the coronavirus early in 2020 they weren’t too worried. But as the pandemic spread and more people tested positive it became a worry. Then Inslee announced all non-essential businesses were required to close.

“There’s no unemployment,” Trevaskis said. “There’s no safety net for us if we’re out of work.”

While renting chairs gives hair stylists the freedom to work as much or as little as they want, set their own hours and build their own clientele, it also means they have to pay their own taxes and don’t qualify for unemployment benefits.

“This falls on all seven of us equally,” Trevaskis said. “I’m sure we’re going to be feeling the effects of this for a long time.”

Losing one income is daunting enough, but Trevaskis said half the stylists at Bliss also have a partner that is also self-employed.

Trevaskis and Warmuth said their clients have been understanding with canceled appointments and some have bought gift cards or prepaid for their next appointment.

“That’s a very, very nice gesture,” Trevaskis said.

Owner of Quick’s Barbershop on North Monroe Street, Michael Knypstra is no stranger to kind gestures.

Knypstra opened Quick’s in 2011 shortly after getting out of jail. Knypstra worked hard, living in the basement of the barbershop for a year as he grew his business. Nearly a decade later, Knypstra lives in Arizona and opened another Quick’s there.

He often helps others who recently got out of jail to find work or just simply cuts their hair to give them a boost of confidence.

“When you’re able to give somebody a nice haircut and you see how it changes their whole demeanor, it lifts them up,” Knypstra said. “It’s very rewarding to be able to take somebody and give them that sort of boost.”

At the Spokane Quick’s, barbers rent a booth and are independent contractors. Knypstra worked hard not only to build his business but to bring others up with him.

“I always try to help them be successful,” Knypstra said.

With years of work put into bringing the eight barbers who work in his shop together, shutting down because of coronavirus has taken an emotional and financial toll.

“Even during this time, I’m still trying to keep everybody motivated, keep them pushing and grinding and not letting them get into a depressed place,” Knypstra said.

The barbers have a group chat and have been talking everyday. Knypstra has encouraged them to do what they need to do during this time, even picking up jobs stocking shelves to make ends meet.

“There’s nothing wrong with that at all,” Knypstra said.

As a small business owner, Knypstra is struggling financially, too.

“The most difficult part for me personally, I mean clearly my income was just cut off completely,” Knypstra said. “I’m actually applying for jobs.”

After a decade of spending all day everyday talking to people, stylist Christina Schlangen said adjusting to being home with just her two Corgis all day has been hard.

Schlangen works at Urbanna Salon and Spa on Division Street and specializes in “balayage and blondes.” At Urbanna, stylists are employees who also get commission. Balayage is a technique for highlighting hair.

“Thankfully all of us stylists were able to file for unemployment,” Schlangen said.

While Schlangen has worked as an independent contractor before, she said it “pretty much ends up evening out” when it comes to paying taxes.

One big plus for Schlangen is that Urbanna offers health insurance. When news of mandated business closures came out, Schlangen said her bosses kept in touch with the stylists via group text and explained how to file for unemployment.

“I think that really transitioned smoothly for us,” Schlangen said. “We’re all like family there.”

Some stylists on social media have been saying they might continue working out of their homes. But Schlangen said that could cost someone their license. The state is taking it very seriously, Schlangen said.

While out of work, Schlangen said she is starting to lose track of what day it is during the week.

“It’s like the longest Saturday I’ve ever had,” she joked.

With cabin fever setting in for people in self-isolation or quarantine, Schlangen warned against dyeing your hair at home or cutting your own bangs.

“I think every stylist in the world, that’s like a huge cringe,” Schlangen said. “To all those people that are considering that, we all have roots right now – so don’t touch.”

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