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Norwalk businesses continue to adapt as Connecticut reopens

Brooke Capriotti, at her reopened Shear Genius Salon. (Claire Schoen)

NORWALK, Conn. — When Brooke Capriotti reopened her Shear Genius Salon in Norwalk on June 1, it had been about three months since she and her stylists had seen clients.

“I think everyone at the salon was a little nervous to start but once we saw our first client, oddly, it was almost like we never left,” she said.

Just a few doors away, Michele Stuart of Michele’s Pies, had been busy running her company throughout the pandemic, offering curbside pickup. While she’s still not allowing customers into her store, the summer months have offered her a new way to reach them: farmers markets. Her team is at Rowayton’s farmers market on Fridays and New Canaan’s on Saturdays. 

“I think the farmers market people are still not loving going into the food store, so at the farmers markets they’re buying local, so it’s good,” she said.

While both businesses have begun to move into a “new normal,” things don’t look quite the same as before the coronavirus pandemic. At Shear Genius, the waiting room is no longer in use. Clients now wait in their cars until text messages inform them that their stylists are ready. All clients have their temperature taken and are asked to sanitize as soon as they walk into the salon.

“Masks are required by everyone who’s in the salon at all times,” Capriotti said. “We are setting aside time in between clients to sanitize our chairs, our tools, and our shampoo bowls.”

The stylists themselves also look a bit different. They’re wearing face masks and shields to protect both themselves and their customers.

At Michele’s Pies, customers can still place orders for curbside pickup, mainly on Fridays and Saturdays, with some Sundays available. Stuart said she’s going to maintain that pace, at least for the time being.

“I’m going to see how the next month goes before we start adding days and stuff, since we added the farmers market,” she said.

Summer months are traditionally some of her best, Stuart said, and with people beginning to gather but still looking to stay close to home – “They’ll probably be having summer picnics” – she’s curious to see how busy her shop will be, especially on the Fourth of July and Labor Day.

“The summer’s our good time because that’s when we have all our flavors. We have all the berry pies and strawberry rhubarb and it’s very summery.”

Both business owners face the additional challenge of running a business while also watching their children, as summer camps and programs are limited.

“It’s still really long hours, because I don’t have my full staff back yet,” Stuart said. “I’m wearing many hats. I mean, I guess it’s pretty much the same since last time. We’re still doing well, I’m going to see—because I’m busy with the kids all summer long—so I’m just going to hold out and still do the three days (of curbside) since there’s not many camps this summer.”

Both women expressed a willingness to take the extra steps and do things a little differently for now to keep their businesses up and running, and their staffs and customers safe.

“We are all wearing face masks and shields and it’s taken some getting used to—it’s hot under there to say the very least, but we want to protect ourselves and protect our clients,” Capriotti said.

Capriotti said her salon is still operating with a reduced number of clients, which could have a long-term effect on the business, depending on how long restrictions remain in place.

“We’re working at 50 percent capacity, which will be a challenge…in the sense that we will not be able to service as many clients as we usually were able to per day,” she said.

At the same time, Capriotti said, not all of her clients are ready to come back.

“When I reached out to the clients to call them to reschedule their appointments that they’ve missed, some were ready to come in right away. Some wanted to wait,” she said. “It just seems like everyone’s on a bit of a different page, but everyone who’s come into the salon is thankful to have us back and happy that we’re open and could not wait to get their hair done.”

For Stuart, holidays, such as Memorial Day and Father’s Day, have kept her extremely busy.

While she wasn’t sure whether people would be going out to eat or opting for traditional backyard barbeques, “we had a good response for Father’s Day, so I was happy,” she said.

As of now, Capriotti said, there’s been no word on when she can increase her capacity.

“I think it’s really more of a ‘watch-and-see’ thing, that they’re going into phase 2 and opening more things indoors now, and I think maybe Lamont will start upping the capacity in places if he sees that the numbers aren’t growing and a lot of people aren’t getting sick,” she said.

In the meantime, Capriotti is grateful the federal government has extended its Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses from eight weeks to 24 weeks. “That’s going to be extremely helpful to business owners,” she said.

While she awaits further updates, she is thankful to be safely back to work. “(I’m) just grateful to be back, grateful that I’m able to open my doors again, and it’s really great to see all the clients,” she said.

Stuart is already looking ahead to the fall and beyond. “We’re already starting to think about Thanksgiving and how we’re going to have to change things to adapt to the whole COVID situation,” she said.

 

2 comments

DryAsABone June 25, 2020 at 6:18 am

Check the article in CtMirror re: unemployment, specifically where Connecticut falls into the mix.
Blameing COVID for decades of mismanagement in this state does not wash.
Fewer and fewer people are buying the institutional mendacity but sadly things will probbaly not change.

John O'Neill June 25, 2020 at 11:19 am

Question for store owners: Have your state or city reps called to ask for your input/ideas on reopening? The effect on your business. On another topic, I’m willing to make a trade on statues in Norwalk. I’ll be ok with Columbus statue coming down if we can replace it with both Mother Cabrini and Milton Friedman. I’m guessing our students know little or nothing about either, which by the way is a disgrace.

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