BASKING RIDGE, NJ - Nearly three months after New Jersey went into near lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the state has shifted into Stage 2 of Governor Phil Murphy’s multi-phase reopening plan. Hair salons can reopen June 22nd with certain restrictions as the state continues its path to economic recovery. Ricky Pennisi, owner of Atelier Salon with locations in Basking Ridge and Denville, is anxious and excited to reopen but is working hard to stay one step ahead of any challenges that come his way.
Both of Pennisi’s salons, typically stirring six days a week, have been closed since March 19th per Governor Murphy’s executive order. “This is a wild time. We just paused, no milestones for three months, now we are coming out of it. You know, we do not even know what to expect on the other side. We are just riding this wave into shore,” said Pennisi.
Ahead of reopening, Pennisi has found himself struggling to find the right balance of following the state's guidelines while still giving his clients the spa-like experience they have come to expect from Atelier. “It is a tough balance. We are going to really focus on making people feel comfortable. It’s an uncomfortable time. We will try our best to not lose that feeling of a nice experience. It's a mini vacation and I really don't want to lose that,” explained Pennisi.
The process is streamlined. “We put a Ring doorbell on our back door, that's going to be the entrance, the front door is going to be the exit. It's covered, so if it's raining, people kind of hang out there, and still be socially distant from one another.” Clients will need to arrive five to ten minutes early, they will be asked to fill out a form regarding any COVID-19 symptoms that they have had or anyone they have been in contact with. A designated staff member will then take their temperature and log it on their form. At that time, clients will be informed that all staff members have had their temperatures taken and that they were symptom free at the beginning of their shift.
As per the state guidelines, only clients with scheduled appointments will be allowed into the salon. Appointments will be spaced out to accommodate for proper cleaning and sanitization between clients. “We got rid of the front desk. We are just going to have one hostess at a time to help navigate people around. We also have hired an outside answering service that's going to be answering all calls and doing all bookings. We are getting iPads for the stations, so stylists can book their client's next appointment before they leave, eliminating the need to stop at the front desk,” explained Pennisi. “The hostess will take payments, the customer does not have to leave the station that has been disinfected for them”.
Pennisi fears that one of the most complicated parts of reopening is dealing with things on the back end. As small businesses struggle to come back from the pandemic, minimum wage continues to climb. “I have four women between the two locations who focus only on cleaning, while important, it’s a menial task,” said Pennisi. “No one has addressed the fact that when minimum wage goes up, workmans comp insurance goes up, payroll tax goes up. There are so many other things that go along with that, it's going to be really tough, not only for me. So coming out of this thing, already being strapped before we went into it by the raise of the minimum wage, it is not going to be a great climate for people to get lower level jobs. I don't know how they expect us to do all these things and pay the mortgage and pay taxes and not fall behind,” Pennisi explained.
When the doors reopen on Monday and the first clients enter through the salon’s doors, Pennisi asks for your patience. “I hope that people realize that we have been closed for three months, and we are doing the best we can. If there's anything that you do not like, if you feel uncomfortable before you post it on a community forum or put a bad review somewhere tell the person working with you or the owner or the manager, and we will do our best to address it. I think we have lost sight of the fact that words do cause a lot of damage. To put a negative review on social media can really tarnish someone's reputation, and possibly turn away, new clients,” said Pennisi. “The best way to support us now is for our customers to be understanding and patient while we work out the kinks”.
Pennisi is open to suggestions to make clients comfortable during the reopening of his salons, “I have been here for 20 years. I want to keep growing,” he said.
Atelier Basking Ridge is located at 1 Brownlee Place in Basking Ridge. (908)766-4630.
Atelier Denville is located at 291 Route 46 East in Denville. (973)983-8883.