Salons hit especially hard during lockdown, struggling to survive

Kayla Anderson
Tahoe Daily Tribune

LAKE TAHOE — Angela Zajic had just gotten off a Zoom chat with her staff at RAH Hair Studio in South Lake Tahoe.

On March 20, her newly built hair salon that’s just a year old, closed and has remained shuttered for the past month and a half. Now she’s busy trying to keep in touch with her fellow stylists to figure out creative ways about how to generate an income since people working in the hair industry have an especially hard time claiming unemployment insurance or receiving government aid.

“We moved into The Crossing (at 2018 Lake Tahoe Boulevard) last April; I put a lot of work into building the studio and hired the biggest staff I’ve ever had, 11 people total, half of them employees and half self-employed independent contractors,” Zajic said. “And now we just have only one person who has stayed on, our wedding coordinator who is taking all of the cancellation calls and the scheduling issues between March and May.”

RAH Hair Studio’s one employee was rescheduling people’s appointments but then found that they were canceling those, too, until the Studio decided not to take any new appointments altogether.

While Zajic is aware of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s phased plan for opening small businesses, she says that his comments about loosening restrictions are vague and confusing, therefore no one can really count on how hair salons fit into that.

So, after almost two decades of exclusively doing hair for a living, Zajic has had to think of new ways to generate an income for her and her people.

“We’ve relied heavily on wedding hair and local business, it’s all I’ve known for 17 years,” Zajic said.

With the option of doing hair abruptly taken away, Zajic and her fellow stylists have had to get creative.

“RISE Designs made hats for us that say, ‘Rah Hair Studio Survived COVID-19’ and I started selling those online,” she said. “I’ve also been putting together care packages and Mother’s Day baskets.”

However, as the COVID-19 pandemic goes on, some of her fellow hairdressers’ situations have gotten more dire.

“Some employees are having to go on food stamps because they’re not getting any kind of assistance,” Zajic said.

When asked if she would consider opening against the governor’s order like some other hair salons in Northern California, Zajic immediately shut down the idea.

“We already follow really strict safety and cleaning rules for keeping our salon open, so I would never go against the order and risk people’s health,” she said.

“Customers are calling me asking, ‘Can you please come over and do my hair in my backyard?’ and I just have to tell them we can’t because it’s too risky,” she said. “And it’s hard because our clients are our friends, they’re our people. They are reaching out hardcore right now, they miss us. For many of them, this is the only place they come to socialize. I never realized how much people relied on us.”

Now already two months into the COVID-19 situation, Zajic is afraid that this will go on throughout the summer and they will miss out on Tahoe’s biggest revenue-generating season.

“It’s scary, wedding season is looking to be over when we possibly start back up. If they keep cancelling events, then this whole season will just be gone,” Zajic said.

Therefore, the only thing she can do is the same thing that everyone else is doing … sitting tight, taking it one day at a time, keeping in contact with her employees, and keeping hope alive that they can reopen as soon as possible.

“In selling hair products, I’m trying to pay the girls more commission by encouraging clients to buy them directly through their hairdresser. It helps a little bit but I’m literally doing anything to make money these days, hand painting cards, selling care baskets … I just built this beautiful new salon last year and I’ve worked so hard to get to where I’m at, and now we’re all down to so little.”

Hairstylists Affected All Around the Lake

The situation is the same for hairdressers on the northeastern shore of Lake Tahoe, too.

When asked how his hairstyling business is going at Perception Salon in Incline Village during COVID-19, Nick Augustine says, “It’s going terrible.”

Augustine is an independent contractor who rents chair space at Perception and maintained around 150-200 clients before COVID-19 hit.

“Most hairdressers work for years to get to a certain level of managing their own clientele, and now we don’t even qualify for unemployment insurance,” he said.

And while Nevada has supposedly opened up unemployment insurance to independent contractors, it’s been a struggle for self-employed Tahoe residents to actually receive any benefits.

“I’d say that 10% of all hairdressers are on W2’s, working at big companies like Supercuts,” Augustine said. “Out of everyone I know in the hair industry, no one has received anything (in government support). Especially salon owners … there are going to be some that aren’t going to make it.”

Augustine’s view is that PPP loans only protect wage workers and hasn’t heard much about the EDIL. However, Augustine was able to get some assistance from the local rotary club and has seen the community support behind GoFundMe accounts for fellow salon owners.

For the most part, though, Augustine believes that industry hairdressers are very much on their own.

“If you are good enough at this kind of job, you move up the ranks and if you’re not good enough then you don’t make it,” he said. “It’s a very unforgiving business.”

Spending more than 20 years as a hairdresser, Augustine is known for his complex hair coloring and styling, specializing in balayage, blow dry, and dimensional color. But with hair salons closed, people’s roots are starting to show.

“People usually come in every four to six weeks to recolor their hair,” he said. “This week will be two months (since they’ve been closed) so there are a lot of people overdue.”

He recognizes that other hairdressers are sharing touch up kits and tutorials on how to cut their own hair, but Augustine won’t go down that route.

“I tell people not to cut their own bangs,” he said. “Just wait it out, put on a hat if you need to. But I do really complex color highlighting so I don’t give kits out, because it can become more of a problem trying to fix it later.”

However, the light at the end of the tunnel is that it doesn’t look like his clients are going anywhere; after surviving the 2008 recession, Augustine is seeing support for the hair industry in a different way.

“We were hit harder in 2008, but now I’m seeing an indirect kind of help from my clients,” he said.

Augustine believes that his clients are willing to spend the money to get their hair done once he’s back up and running and as long as that demand is there then he’ll be okay.

And yes, his clients have tried to hire Augustine to do their hair even though the salon is closed, but he says that most are pretty respectful about waiting until it’s clear and legal.

“With over 100 clients I see lots of perspectives and differing opinions,” he said. “There are those thinking that this is an overreach (about the governor closing salons), but we’re just trying to keep in touch with our clients and let them know when we think we’ll get open again.”

For more information about Nicholaus Augustine Hair at Perception Salon in Incline Village, visit

More Like This, Tap A Topic

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.