Life got more complicated in many ways in Northeast Ohio when the novel coronavirus emerged as a public health crisis in March 2020.
Among other things, it became more difficult for people to keep their hair looking good and their bodies in top physical condition.
For approximately two months in 2020, the Ohio Department of Health ordered salons, barbershops, and related businesses to close due to health and safety risks posed by COVID-19. A similar ODH directive also forced the closure of gyms, health clubs and the like.
It has been more than two years since ODH issued a separate statement giving these same categories of businesses the go-ahead to reopen.
The News-Herald recently interviewed the owners of a Willoughby gym and Mentor-area hair salon to learn more about how they successfully recovered from extended business closures during the early part of the COVID-19 crisis.
Ohio Sports and Fitness
Ohio Sports and Fitness owner Frank Desico said he vividly remembers what went through his mind late in the afternoon on March 16, 2020.
Specifically, he recalled his thoughts as he pulled out of the parking lot of his gym, located on Biltmore Place in Willoughby. She was heading home for the night after hearing earlier in the evening that the state was ordering gyms and related businesses in Ohio to close until further notice to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“I was looking at my gym, a place that I started with a knife and rubber mats, with my father, painting it, literally from scratch,” Desico said. “Kind of wondering, ‘Hey, was this it?’ I got a little emotional, a little teary-eyed.
“I was like, ‘Hey, I don’t know what to think, along with everyone else.’ Just the uncertainty of the world was definitely daunting at the time.”
Desico originally opened Ohio Sports and Fitness at 36540 Biltmore Place in 2015.
After the state-mandated shutdown, Desico regularly went to his gym to work out alone, but wouldn’t let anyone else in.
“It was the strangest thing,” he said. “For 4 1/2 years, it was a 24-hour facility where there was literally someone in the facility at any given time, and it got to a point where it was completely desolate. It was very depressing. But hey, you get over it.”
During the nearly 10 weeks of the state-mandated shutdown, which ran from March 17 to May 26, Desico took steps to stay connected with gym members.
“In that period of time, we’re spinning, we’re doing online classes, Zoom stuff,” he said. “Any way we can keep the community going.”
Desico estimated that about 95 percent of members continued to pay their monthly dues during the 10-week shutdown, even though it offered to waive those costs.
“There were so many members who reached out to me personally and said, ‘Hey, I want you to keep billing my membership, for as long as we’re closed, just to make sure we have a home when we’re closed. come back,’” Desico said.
With almost all of the membership income still coming in during the lockdown, Desico was able to cover all of the necessary expenses for their business.
Ohio gyms were allowed to reopen in late May 2020, and OSF has gone from strength to strength ever since.
In August 2021, Desico moved Ohio Sports & Fitness’s main gym to a much larger building at 36445 Biltmore Place, Unit G, in Willoughby. His original gym now serves as a secondary location for sport-specific skill training.
From the time OSF reopened on May 26, 2020, to the present, memberships have doubled, Desico said.
“A lot of that, of course, came from a new, bigger gym,” he said. “But I also do everything I can to make sure I give my members the understanding that I am a very active, present and caring owner who wants to make sure we provide the best possible place for people to come back. that (COVID shutdown and recovery) and have something really good.”
Desico said that for him and his Ohio Sports and Fitness members, working out at the gym again “was like a breath of fresh air.
“It was almost a renaissance, a new illumination, of my love and the love of others for fitness, and for the industry and what it offers.”
Jennifer and company
Jennifer Pealer knew she was headed into uncharted territory after closing both of her salons on the night of March 18, 2020.
Earlier that day, the Ohio Department of Health had ordered all hair salons and related businesses to close indefinitely to help stem the spread of COVID-19 cases.
“It was like, OK, where do we go from here? What is the next step? Pealer said, recalling his initial reaction to the state’s decision.
Pealer owns Jenniffer & Co., which consists of salons at 9420 Mentor Ave. in Mentor and 5978 Andrews Road in Mentor-on-the-Lake.
“So, as you know, that (state-mandated) shutdown turned into two months,” he said. “And for two months, I came to the salon every day and was able to put things in order that I normally wouldn’t have. Say, clean the storage rooms. First you went for cleaning duties. At first, we thought it was going to be a week or two. And then that turned into a month that turned into two months.”
But the long layoff also prompted Pealer to learn how to be creative to generate income.
“We learned to sell online,” he said. “We learned how to do retail withdrawals. We learned how to do retail delivery.”
During the eight-week hiatus, Jenniffer and Co. only sold hair care products that customers were allowed to purchase at retail.
“We didn’t sell any of our professional products,” he said. “We did not give people color to go. We gave them substitutes, like color conditioners. Or shampoos and conditioners that make highlights shinier for longer.”
Pealer said Jenniffer & Co. also connected with customers through social media by regularly offering quick hair care tips.
“We did ‘Tipsy Tuesdays,’ where every Tuesday we would give a tip, like how to style your bangs or how to blow-dry,” Pealer said.
Before each Jenniffer & Co. location reopened during the third week of May 2020, Pealer needed to put regulations in place for how customers would enter the buildings.
“Everyone had to wear a mask,” he said. “You had to call from the parking lot, you had to let us know you were here, to check in.”
As a general rule, clients were asked not to bring other people into the salon with them. But there were some exceptions.
“Anyone under the age of 18 could bring their parents,” Pealer said. “And/or if it was a condition where they needed supervision or assistance, and we would allow (an aide) to come in with them.”
Both Jenniffer & Co. salons became busy places from day one and have continued to thrive ever since.
“The minute our clients were able to get back into the salon, they did,” Pealer said. “And we have a great family of Jenniffer & Co. clients. They respect (our employees) as much as we respect them.”
Some of the security measures put in place in the reopening phase after the closure by COVID-19 are maintained.
“To this day, we still clean our desks, we still clean our wash chair, bowls and barber chairs,” Pealer said. “And we still electronically sanitize every night.”
Looking back on the closure and recovery, Pealer said those events turned out to be very educational.
“We’ve learned from that and we’ve taken things forward from COVID that were in our best interest,” Pealer said. “I could only hope and imagine that other people in this industry would do the same thing. Take some of those sanitizing features, some of those protocols (established during the reopening of salons in COVID-19) and use them to our advantage.”