A Local Hair Salon’s Triumph Over COVID-19

Written by on April 24, 2021

Photo caption: Carly Kruse, owner of Evelyn Dickerson Hair Design in Kent stands behind their new plexiglass screen at their front desk. She calls herself the “mask police” and ensures everyone inside the salon is properly masked.

Sixteen years ago when Carley Kruse purchased the first hair salon she had ever worked at, she didn’t picture having to navigate the business through a global pandemic. However, just over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, Evelyn Dickerson Hair Design and its staff are managing to keep spirits high.

Kruse and her salon staff are a close knit group of people so making business decisions during the pandemic felt all the more personal. She recalls how tense last March was, saying she had many sleepless nights. She was caught between wanting to keep her clients and staff safe and wanting to make sure her staff were working, as many of them are single-income families. She had some of her staff wearing masks during this early period before they became a widely mandated thing, wanting to keep people safe for as long as they were open.

“When DeWine mandatorily closed us, that was a huge relief for me because it wasn’t in my hands anymore. I, quite frankly, did not know which direction to go,” Kruse says.

Kruse and some of her staff took the chance during the mandatory shutdown to spruce up the salon and finish up some redecorating that was difficult to do while the salon was open.

“Something really horrible turned out to be a benefit to us and that’s how we looked at it,” Kruse says. “So when we did open our doors again, everything looked brand new and sparkling.”

When Evelyn Dickerson Hair Design was finally able to reopen its doors, Kruse was excited to see customers begin to trickle back in. Kruse believes the longevity that her salon has has allowed people to feel more comfortable with them when they were ready to make the jump back to going to a salon.

Evelyn Dickerson started her salon almost 70 years ago, near the university before being able to build their current location on South Water St. The salon started as a twelve-chair establishment, but was able to expand to sixteen chairs over the years.

Carley Kruse came to work at Evelyn Dickerson Hair Design in the late 1970s, shortly after she had finished cosmetology school but wasn’t yet officially licensed.

“I was waiting to take my state boards and put my resume together and started going to salons just so that when I did get licensed, I’d be ready to go,” Kruse says. “She hired me on the spot—she needed someone to help with the desk.”

With “her foot in the door,” Kruse was able to do front desk work until she passed her state board exams at which point she was slowly able to make her way onto the floor, cutting and styling hair for customers.

After Dickerson retired, her daughter took over the day-to-day operations of the hair salon. By the time Dickerson passed away and her daughter decided to move on from the salon business, Kruse was living in New York, but her husband caught wind of the salon going up for sale back home. Though she knew nothing about running a business, she did know a lot about the business of beauty with 24 years of experience behind the chair. Her husband assured her that he would take on the business operations while she did the beauty side of things.

“Well, we bought the salon and I came back, but he still worked in western New York for two years. So, as far as him handling the business aspect of it, that didn’t happen for very long,” Kruse says, chuckling. “It all worked out. The first couple years I would say were a little difficult, getting my feet wet and all of that, but it’s been wonderful. I still have staff there that were my mentors when I worked behind the chair.”

Since reopening, the salon has also had a lot of positive feedback on their safety protocol which Kruse says they worked on during shutdown. Kruse thinks the size of the salon helps make people feel more comfortable since the large salon floor allows for a lot of social distancing room. The staff are even able to utilize one of their back rooms as a private service room for more compromised customers.

She also notes that people often don’t realize how essential salon services are. Not only has the salon staff had to fix a number of at-home haircuts, but they’ve also heard from clients that the services they provide are one of the only things that they’re able to do right now that makes them feel good. 

“It’s good for your mental wellbeing and feeling good about yourself is important,” Kruse says. “How you look is important, but how you feel is much more important.”

Though business is doing well, it’s not where it was pre-pandemic. The salon can start a day with a full book and have several customers cancel by noon, but Kruse and her staff encourage their clients to do this if they don’t feel well.

“It says on our door, ‘If you’re feeling sick, please don’t come in,’” Kruse says.

They are still seeing some of their old clients come in for the first time and welcoming them back as well as picking up new ones from stylists who haven’t returned to work yet if they or a family member is immunocompromised. Another group they’ve lost but are seeing slowly return are appointments for proms, weddings, and other events of the like. They hope to see some of their university customers return when more students return to campus.

“You know, you don’t realize what you had until it’s gone,” Kruse says. “Hairdressers tend to be very much people-oriented people. We like to talk and having that taken away from us, it was hard.”

She and her staff are happy to just be able to work in their salon again. Kruse thinks the past year has been a humbling experience and has allowed people to appreciate the things they lost for a while, like interacting with clients. Since the salon has reopened, Kruse and her staff have focused on finding joy in the little things like getting to know new staff members or getting new supplies of customized masks to sell at the salon.

Looking ahead, Kruse is looking forward to a time when she won’t have to worry as much about social distancing and other safety precautions that she has to make sure customers are following now. 

“I’ve been extremely uptight, especially at the beginning. I was constantly worrying about keeping people healthy. … I’m the mask police in there,” Kruse says.

Even though she looks forward to the day when she has to stop bugging customers about keeping their masks over their noses, Kruse says many staff members have said they enjoy wearing masks and will continue to even past the point they are mandated. She says the number of flu cases they had among the staff was lower than it has been in past years too. 

Though they kept a rigorous cleaning routine before, Kruse also says she plans on keeping the extra sanitization steps that they’ve added since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. She also hopes that they soon won’t have to worry about supply shortages for salon supplies.

One of the biggest things she looks forward to is being able to hug their clients again.

“We’ve had clients that have been coming into the salon for many, many years and our staff is an eclectic group of people. We’re fairly unique in the fact that everyone is very, very close and looks out for each other and the same goes for our clients,” Kruse says. “So we do miss hugging clients. You’re always on top of making sure you’re standing far away from them so all of that will be very nice when it’s over.”

 

Jay Shah contributed to this story.


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