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Personal Services Return, but What About Clients?

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After half a year spent studiously avoiding close contact with those outside of their immediate bubbles, former patrons of gyms, hair salons, tattoo parlors, and other personal services are now faced with a choice: to be, or not to be… indoors with other people.

One week after the city gave the green light for personal services to resume inside, business owners are reporting a mixed response. Perceptions of safety and a diminished client base due to people moving out of the city appear to be two major factors.

“We thought we would be completely slammed, but I don’t think people are totally comfortable coming in for indoor services,” says Taylor Gallanter, co-owner of Beau SF barbershop and beauty parlor in Presidio Heights. “We didn’t get that huge flood of booking that we expected.”

Across town, fitLOCALfit’s Bernal Heights and Glen Park gyms have seen “pretty good success with reopening in the first week,” says owner Dean Eriksen, adding that the two small gyms have largely remained full to the city-sanctioned 10 percent capacity limit.

Several small beauty salons, tattoo parlors and barbershops reached by phone were too busy to talk — but a couple of the people reached did note that business had been greater than expected before hanging up. Vilius Zaikauskas, owner of Mysa Day Spa on West Portal, was “satisfied” with the number of people coming in, adding that at times he has had more clients than he can accommodate.

Many personal services are still getting up and running, and putting the word out to their customers that they are open for business. Image Hair Tech Beauty Salon on San Bruno Avenue has been open for just two days, and so far, “it’s been slow,” says stylist Pam Cxan. “We hope that in another week or two it’s going to be better, but I think it’s going to take time.”

Nathan Cerda, owner of Nate’s Barbershop in Oceanview, can’t take as many clients as normal due to capacity and sanitization requirements, but there’s still plenty of open appointments on his calendar. With his location between SF State and City College, he’s not holding his breath until in-person learning is back on. “Once everyone goes back to school, hopefully by next semester, we’ll see some progress,” he says.

Some business owners expressed frustration about the back and forth guidelines and regulations from the city. Gallanter of Beau SF says her business spent a lot of money on marketing in advance of the planned June 29 reopening date, and got a full slate of bookings, only to have it cancelled by the city two days before the target date. Now, she says, “We’re trying to build back client trust.”

Mystie Hansen, owner of Studiomix gym on Van Ness, thinks the city has not done enough “to show the public that it’s safe to go to gyms.” Her 30,000 square foot gym technically has a capacity of more than 30 people under current regulations, but so far, no more than five people at a time have shown up to use the facility. Membership has declined 85 percent since the beginning of the pandemic. Many former members, Hansen suspects, have moved out of town.

This sentiment was shared by Gallanter, in tony Presidio Heights, as well as Cerda, in working class Oceanview. “A lot of San Franciscans left the neighborhood,” Cerda says. “With a lot of the tech industry gone, that really affected us.”

And with the city’s commercial eviction moratorium set to expire by the end of the month many businesses are still teetering on the brink, despite being open.

“It’s really critical that the public support these small businesses,” Hansen says. “Activate your membership now, even if you don’t want to come in until January. Because we want to still be here in January.”

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Benjamin Schneider

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