Tracey Milton has been styling her clients hair throughout the course of their lives. She’s been there to style hair for clients’ school pictures, weddings, their children and even for funerals.
Her clients are like family.
Now, masks, plastic dividers and plexiglass separate her from her figurative family. Milton is the owner and a stylist at A New Look Hair Salon, which has been serving Burlington and the surrounding area for over 20 years.
“It’s like a family,” Milton said. “We hang out together, pre-COVID, when we were able to, attend each other’s weddings or birthday parties or housewarmings. We just are a family.”
Milton’s own family is the reason she went into styling in the first place. She’s a third-generation hair stylist.
“I love taking care of people, and I feel like I just like being helpful and just caring for people.”
Being an esthetician allows Karen Lowe to do something that she has always loved — connecting with people — and she hasn’t let the pandemic stop that.
“There’s just a connection that you feel to someone,” Lowe said. “You’re touching them and there’s this energy, it’s just such a sweet, sweet scene.”
The Burlington native left her job in banking and finance and went to esthetician school. She opened Alamance Esthetics in 2019, which offers different skin therapies and hydrafacials. She now specializes in oncology esthetics for those with breast cancer.
Salons and other personal care businesses are allowed to open with 100% capacity under North Carolina’s current COVID-19 guidelines, but other safety guidelines like physically-distanced seating and mask wearing must still be upheld. The state also recommends salons use plexiglass barriers and limit the use of shared areas like shampoo bowls.
During the pandemic, Lowe has still tried to maintain the connection she has with her clients and provide, what she said, is a needed stress relief during unpredictable times.
“Last year was a challenge for everybody,” Lowe said. “But what we did, we brought in body treatments because I felt like people needed that physical touch, but they could also keep their mask on if they wanted to.”
Milton said A New Look Hair Salon only allows 10 clients in the salon at a time, despite 100% occupancy being allowed now.
“I just felt like it was imperative that we really stress the safety in here. So it was more about just keeping everyone safe as opposed to packing a bunch of clients in the salon at one time,” Milton said. “I think that, for the most part, we’ve gotten so much positive feedback because they’ve had experiences in other places, even grocery stores … where they’re really not, you know, they’re a little more lenient on the COVID guidelines.”
In the onset of the pandemic, Milton had to pivot her services quickly. Businesses across the state got a notice from the governor that they would need to close down in three days. Milton flipped her services to provide retail packages and began pushing products.
“I literally was hustling hair products is how I felt,” Milton said. “I had a stand set up in front of my front porch and clients could pay online for their hair products. I also offered virtual consultation so that they could reach me virtually and I could show them what to do with their hair.”
Milton applied for a personal paycheck protection loan from the small business association, which helped her pay for unexpected expenses of the pandemic like glass partitions and hand sanitizer.
“I was blessed that I think we had kind of prepared a little bit because as a stylist you have to prepare for the rainy days. I mean, [if] anything that happens to us, literally we don’t have sick days, we don’t have vacation time,” Milton said. “So if I break my finger, or I trip and fall, then that’s time out of work with no pay. So, over the years you kind of learn to budget your business expenses more wisely.”
During the pandemic, Lowe said her clientele has remained steady, apart from losing business from a few of her elderly clients. She said her relationships with her existing clients and the small amount of people Alamance Esthetics treats at a time has kept the business afloat.
“It’s so personalized,” Lowe said. “It’s not a heavy traffic situation there. It feels different too, just knowing that it’s super clean and there’s not a lot of people in and out of it. If anything, it was kind of just between us.”