Nail salon and barbershop owners in SoCal have struggled to pay bills. Now their businesses can reopen

Sandy Lam (left) and her cousin Mai Lam say they have invested thousands of dollars to get their salon ready to reopen in Sherman Oaks. Photo by Benjamin Gottlieb.

Mai Lam is two months behind on her rent — $4000 monthly for a nail salon in Sherman Oaks. 

Along with her cousin Sandy, she manages several employees at All Star Nails on Woodman Ave. Normally, the space is packed with customers seeking manicures and friendly conversations. But the start-and-stop nature of the COVID economy has brought their small business to its breaking point.

“We used to work long hours and six days a week,” Mai Lam says as she prepares to open her salon for the week. “Now we only work three. There aren’t any customers either, because the customers are the same as us. They are still afraid to get out. No one wants to get sick.”

But the Lam family does not have a choice.

Pasted Image Sandy and Mai Lam outfit their salon recliners with conflex plexiglas to separate customers from workers. Photo by Benjamin Gottlieb.

Along with tens of thousands of other small business owners, they have struggled to pay their bills — both personal and business-related — during the pandemic. 

This week, hair and nail salons, barber shops, and other personal care businesses got the go-ahead to reopen from the LA County Department of Public Health. Health officials point to declining COVID-19 case rates and an increase in available hospital beds as reasons why.

For Dice The Barber, who runs his barber practice out of a private salon studio on Ventura Blvd., the decision could not have come sooner.

“We spend 1,600 hours to get our licenses, and the main thing they teach us is to be sanitary to make sure everything is clean,” Dice says as he cuts a client’s hair who he has not seen in months. “It’s the last that should be shut down.”

Pasted Image Dice The Barber cuts a client’s hair for the first time in his private salon space in months. Photo by Benjamin Gottlieb.

Dice has been able to get by, he says, by cutting hair at his home and those of his clients. But nothing he says beats working at his own salon.

“You never know how long something is going to last,” he says. “And when you’ve got your mortgage or your rent … have to bring in $6,000 to $9,000 a month, it’s expensive. How can you do that without your business open?”

Pasted Image A collection of scissors, combs and other barber accessories inside Dice The Barber’s private salon space in Sherman Oaks. Photo by Benjamin Gottlieb.

For a full list of what will reopen this week in Los Angeles, click here.