Southeast businesses adjusting to life in pandemic

A.J. Shields cuts the hair of 10-year-old Isabel Munoz May 27 at Melissa’s Hair Therapy on South Circle Drive.

The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on countless businesses since arriving in Colorado in early March, forcing statewide shutdowns and unprecedented economic disruptions.

But Coloradans have done their part to help flatten the curve through social distancing measures, leading the state to reopen many parts of the economy. Many businesses that closed throughout April — including several in Southeast Colorado Springs — were finally able to reopen to customers on May 1, but with guidelines in place to keep customers and employees safe.

The Southeast Express recently spoke with some business owners in the area about what things have been like since reopening.

Melissa’s Hair Therapy

Melissa Chapman, the owner and Melissa’s Hair Therapy and the winner of the inaugural Colorado Springs Business Journal Southeast Business Plan Competition in 2016, said that during Colorado’s stay-at-home order, she and her fellow hair therapist had to turn down several requests from people trying to secure their services. (In the interest of full disclosure, Chapman has been Express Editor Regan Foster’s stylist for more than a decade; in no way did this affect our editorial content.) 

And while she’s heard of other salon owners who’ve bent the rules during the pandemic, hitting “survival mode” and doing what they must to keep their businesses afloat during the shutdown, Chapman opted to do her part to protect herself and her clients.

“We went ahead and shut down and stayed shut down,” Chapman said. “My partner is diabetic and my little boy [is] asthmatic, so I had a particular desire to stay away from the virus as much as possible.”

Chapman said she was unable to secure any government aid during the time her business was closed. She filled out unemployment claims and grant applications with the state, but said she never received a response.

“The shutdown has been so difficult for small businesses and it’s been such a catch-22,” Chapman said.

“Because in one sense, you want to protect people and to follow the rules … but in another sense, if nobody is helping to take care of you, what are you going to do?”

In the roughly six weeks the business was closed, she estimates — based on her average weekly revenue — the salon missed out on about $10,000.

Fortunately, like other salons throughout the state, they were able to reopen early in May.

“If we didn’t open when we did, we were getting to a point where things were going to start getting really tricky for us,” Chapman said. “Luckily we did open. But even that has come with a variety of different challenges.”

To accommodate state and local social-distancing guidelines, Chapman and colleague A.J. Shields wear masks, and ask their customers to do the same. They’ve had to remove the waiting area from their salon, and customers must now wait in their cars when arriving for an appointment.

And there’s also an extensive cleaning effort that takes place between each client’s visit.

But despite all the new challenges, business boomed throughout May.

“Starting May 1, I was already booked ... to about the middle of June, and (the other hairdresser) has stayed booked about two weeks ahead.”

After a month of working extra hours to address the backlog, Chapman’s schedule is still booked to the beginning of July.

“People are calling left and right, and we’re having to tell them no, because there’s only so much capacity that we have,” Chapman said. “And I feel like that’s probably what they’re hearing all over town.”

Because of the surge in business, Chapman said the salon has likely made up for the revenue it lost during the shutdown. And despite all the negativity of the pandemic, she said it’s been reaffirming to see how their customers have responded.

“The people who’ve been coming into our salon have just been phenomenal,” she said. “Our folks have been super supportive of us — we had people buying gift certificates in the beginning to help support us and keep us open, and we’ve really had some real backup. People have really shown their support and their love for us and what we do.

“Perspective is the name of the game right now.”

Hot Rod Tattoos and Body Piercing

After closing down on March 15, Hot Rod Tattoos and Body Piercing remained closed for 45 days before reopening its doors. 

The reopening came with new rules from El Paso County Public Health, which include mask wearing for both artists and customers, checking employees for COVID-19 symptoms each day and limiting the shop to no more than 10 people at a time.

Patrick Matheny, the manager of the studio, said the shop tends to be a place of social gathering, as many who come for a tattoo or piercing bring along friends. 

“The hardest part has probably been keeping everybody out of the shop,” Matheny said. “They just keep walking in and walking in, and with the (health department) rules, if there’s more than 10 people in the shop, they can shut you down and then close you indefinitely. So it’s just been tough to manage when we’re not accustomed to it.”

Prior to reopening the studio, Matheny said its artists were already backlogged on appointments for about a month, and have had to put in extra time to try and get caught up.

“We’re staying late every single day … and we’re coming in early to get everything in that we can,” Matheny said.

They’re also seeing an influx of new customers, which Matheny said is likely due to the fact that many tattoo shops that closed down during the stay-at-home order were unable to reopen following the shutdown.

“A lot of shops closed, so we’re also picking up a lot of slack from all over the place,” Matheny said. “So for us, business has been pretty decent. But that’s probably because other people have closed, so in no way is it good for our industry that we’re busy. 

It’s maybe a benefit to us right now, but it’s a definite knock to the industry.”

International Man

Brian Roche, the co-owner of International Man men’s clothing store, did not have an online store set up to sell his clothing when the pandemic hit, and had no way to generate revenue during the statewide shutdowns of retail stores.

“It’s been a pretty big hardship on us, not being open,” Roche said. “I lost a big chunk of change.”

And with much of the clothing items he sells meant for more formal occasions, he said that the pandemic could hardly have come at a worse time. 

“In essence, I lost my busiest time of the year,” Roche said. “March and April — those two months I get customers for Easter. I have proms, graduations and continuations and weddings throughout. So it really hit me below the belt.”

Roche, who has another location of International Men up in Denver, has reopened both stores with new safety policies in place, such as mask-wearing for employees and customers, and separating shoppers by marking off areas appropriate to 6-foot social distancing.

In Denver, business has been slightly better, likely due to the city’s denser population, but overall at both stores, he said that business has been slow. 

“This store just hasn’t popped back the way I’d like ... because people are still scared to come out,” Roche said. “I have an older clientele here, and a lot of them, I think, are fearful of going out and really mixing, as much as they would like.”

Asked what might it might take to turn things around this year and get his business back to profitable, Roche said the stimulus checks Americans were issued as a result of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, seemed to have sparked sales, and suggested that further aid for Americans could help him generate more revenue in his stores.

“So hopefully another stimulus might be in the cards,” he said.

Reporter

Zach Hillstrom is a Colorado Springs native and graduate of Colorado State University-Pueblo. He has worked as a reporter for Southern Colorado print outlets since 2015.