What is it for a hair salon owner to reopen her business?
“It was like a big party”: what it is for a hairdressing salon owner to reopen her business
Michele Bonnick is a seasoned hairdresser and owner of Amani Hairstyle in Davisville. After more than a year and a half of closings and reopens, Bonnick is delighted to finally welcome her clients to the show, hopefully for good this time around. Here she tells Life in Toronto on the emotional roller coaster of being a small business owner during the pandemic and how it prepared to reopen this summer.
–As said to Haley Steinberg
“I have worked as a hairdresser for almost 30 years. After jumping between Atlanta, New York and Vancouver, I opened Amani Hair Studio, near Yonge and Eglinton, in 2000. We serve clients from many cultural backgrounds with different hair textures, with an emphasis on biological treatments and repair of damaged hair. The show has been around for a long time and we have built up a loyal base of regulars. One of my girlfriends is a dietician and before the pandemic we had monthly classes outside the salon once a month on topics such as health and wellness, hair care and aromatherapy. It was beautiful, the women were crying, there were a lot of hugs. It was a really supportive environment.
“When Covid first struck, as a small business owner, I didn’t know what to think. I had no idea how long we would be closed. To stay afloat, I opened an online store selling all of the products we offer in the salon. Some of the jobs I do, like keratin treatments, require products that are hard to find, so I added these products to the online store so my clients can do the treatments at home.
“When hair salons got the green light to reopen last summer, my staff and I were thrilled. It was like, Okay, we’re back. We bought an air purifier, put in separators between car wash stations, ordered tons of masks and gloves, and sanitized thoroughly. Our sanitizer vending machine costs $ 200 to refill each time, and we’ve been driving it like crazy. In total, we spent a few thousand dollars. But it was worth it. We were full for July and August, with about five customers a day. For a while, things looked normal again. So when the government announced another lockdown in the fall, I was shocked.
“The second time around, I saw the lockdown as an opportunity to complete some business projects, like updating Amani’s website. I researched new products that I could wear. I took alopecia classes and started offering a service where clients with alopecia could drop their wigs in the mailbox, wash and style them, and clients pick them up. I also started doing Zoom Healthy Hair Care consultations with new clients, both local and further afield. I even met a group of women in England. Some of my local consultations turned into future appointments.
“Like many salon owners in town, I had clients looking for appointments under the table. But that sort of thing hasn’t really worked for my clientele – it’s rare that all someone wants is a haircut. My clients with textured hair will want a straightener because their hair is breaking, or they will want me to style their hair. The process is too long and complex to be completed without all the amenities of a full-service salon.
“I was fully prepared to reopen the show in April. We had all of our appointments made and our Covid protocols in place. When the government announced that we would not be able to open at all, it was a blow. I had to postpone more than 100 appointments. It was depressing, because my clients were so upset and disappointed. It’s hard to have this top notch real estate on Yonge Street and not be able to do anything with it. In the summer of 2021, we had over 200 people on our waiting list.
“When we heard about the reopening at the end of June, we were quick to prepare on time. You would think the government could have chosen a better date. It was ridiculous to open a day before the Canada Day long weekend, but we wanted to make the most of the weather. That week we had tons of deliveries – it seemed like everything was happening at the same time. We spent about $ 7,500 on new products. I was paying $ 200 a month for debit machines, but I realized, “Oh, my God, there’s all this money coming out, but nothing coming in. There was all this pressure, like ‘Okay, we have to find this quick, quick, quick!’ I take payment by wire transfer at the moment.
“We started with appointments that we had already had to change and added people to the waitlist whenever we could. When we opened our doors, I felt free for the first time in a year. The camaraderie and excitement was instantaneous: A customer walked in shouting, “I can’t believe you’re finally open!” It was so hard to keep from kissing everyone who came through the door. I am a total extrovert and love to be around people. It was hard to go so long without seeing my regular customers. I’m used to seeing them every six months, and I always remember where we left off and we resume the conversation. Even though a little more time had passed, that’s exactly what we did. The second day we were open a customer came with champagne. Another brought chocolates and a third showed up with a box of beef patties. It was like a big party, everyone came with gifts.
“We currently have about five appointments per day, with a stylist and a client in the salon at a time. Everyone wants everything because they haven’t been to the salon in so long – haircuts, coloring, treatments – so every appointment takes at least a few hours. We added appointments on Sunday and Monday to get past the waiting list, so we’re working seven days a week. I am full until the fall.
“After going so long without styling my hair, I can’t wait to try all of my new products. I even bought this wonderful steam machine which stimulates hair growth. It’s amazing to see people come up with dry, frizzy hair and come away with shiny, healthy hair.
“We are more than just a fair, we are a hub in the community. We encourage and empower women to embrace their beauty and educate them about healthy hair care, whether through diet and nutrition or specific products and treatments. I always preach, “Don’t fight with your natural hair; work with. It creates a real level of trust. My regulars come in and say, “We’re finally home!” It’s so good to be here. After being closed for so long, you really feel the love in the building, even to our limited capacity. I feel like my life is starting over. “