The weeks of April and May are normally the busiest time of year for Lindy’s at the Beach in Hermitage, with adults going for tans in anticipation of summer vacations, wedding preparations, and teenage high school students getting ready for prom and graduation.
But Lindy’s at the Beach — like many other local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic — is closed. And unless the pandemic ends in the coming weeks, owner Lindy Schliep-Phillips said she may completely miss out on tanning season.
“It definitely has hit the industry very hard,” Schliep-Phillips said. “It’s a tough pill to swallow, but we all agree on the safety and health of our clients and our families.”
Schliep-Phillips isn’t facing that challenge alone.
A group of Shenango Valley businesses have created a Facebook page, “Shenango Valley Retail” to spotlight their needs and, in a time of business disruption and closure, inform the public about services still being offered.
Similar to the “Shenango Valley Take Out” page, which allows local restaurants to share specials and information, “Shenango Valley Retail” — which has more than 2,000 members — allows local businesses to support each other by sharing information on sales, products or specials, said Gia Hart-Kokor of Maison de Savon in Hermitage.
Hart-Kokor, who co-owns the store with her daughter Gillian, said their business, which sells homemade products such as soaps, lotions, shaving supplies and baby products, has been able to continue some sales through online sales and even deliveries with limited contact. However, sales have still slowed, compared to when their storefront was open.
Before the pandemic-imposed closure, Maison de Savon — House of Soap in French — could have had 75 to 100 customers in an average week.
“When you’re going 100 miles an hour and someone puts a brick wall in front of you, it’s very detrimental to your business,” Hart-Kokor said.
Aside from helping to share information and support the other businesses, Hart-Kokor said the group is also looking to start gift card giveaways starting next week.
“Everybody wants to see everybody succeed, we don’t want to see any more businesses fail,” Hart-Kokor said.
Like Maison de Savon, Lindy’s at the Beach has had to change the way it is able to do what business it can, including selling products curbside to offering gift cards for when the shop reopens.
Schliep-Phillips said she is also regularly communicating with the 17 people she employed at Lindy’s at the Beach, as well as the customers who become a sort of “extended family” with the salon staff.
“We are hair care consultants, so we’ve had some people call the office with questions about their needs, such as how to straighten their hair or color their roots,” Schliep-Phillips said.
Many of the salon owners involved with “Shenango Valley Retail” were already familiar with each other prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. But Schliep-Phillips said the Facebook page has helped the businesses to stay connected when the businesses had to close, even when they have to deal with different circumstances.
While Lindy’s at the Beach has been at its Hermitage location since 2003, the Beauty Bar on Main opened only in March 2019 and was in the process of increasing its clientele when the state ordered closure of non-essential businesses, including salons.
“We were just building our momentum,” Benic said.
At the Beauty Bar on Main, Benic said the clients ranged from senior citizens to more middle-aged and younger clients, with customers coming from as far as Mercer to a local graduate who moved to Pittsburgh but returns for styling services.
Like Lindy’s at the Beach, the Beauty Bar on Main would have been busy this time of year — the salon was fully booked for prom, although the closing of local businesses and school districts changed that.
The Beauty Bar on Main, a Christian-based salon, also has hosted a Bible study through Grace Chapel Community Church in Hermitage. Benic said the salon has been able to continue that service through the Zoom online conferencing platform.
However, since the salons aren’t able to continue their main function until their locations are physically open, Benic said she suspects there will be a surge of customers when the pandemic ends. She plans to recall all five of the Beauty Bar on Main’s employees.
“I feel very confident everybody’s going to reschedule their hair, and I’ve heard that the students might have their prom rescheduled by the schools or the parents, so if all the districts do it on the same day, there’s only so many salons in the area,” Benic said.
Until the salons can start seeing customers again, some customers are trying to cut their hair, style and dye from home. However, doing it yourself doesn’t always have the same result as having it done in a salon, said Rosie Wasser, owner of Rock. Paper. Shears at Sandless Beaches in Sharon.
“We’ve had a ton of calls like ‘Oops, I messed this up, when are you open or what can I get from the store,” Wasser said. “There are certain things that we can’t sell, like we can’t sell colors, but I tell people ‘remain calm, we’ll get them fixed and back to normal when they come in.’”
The salon does have a website and Facebook page to help sell some items, such as gift certificates or professional products that can’t be purchased at normal retailers, Wasser said.
However, for Wasser and the four other people who work at her salon, being closed for months is still difficult, whether it’s applying for a Payroll Protection Program small business loan, part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, or waiting to hear the pandemic might be over.
This is why it’s helpful to have local businesses — especially the salons, who are friends as well as competitors — support each other online, said Wasser.
It was painful early on in the pandemic to drop appointments and take cancellation calls from customers, especially brides who had to postpone their weddings, Wasser said. But salon clients build relationships with their stylists, and her customers have also called to make sure everyone is doing OK.
“People have been wonderful with checking how we are, and I even had a client who moved away that called for an hour,” Wasser said. “We’re used to seeing 10, 15, 30 people a day, and now we’re confined to our houses.”
Though the pandemic and its safety measures have distressed people, including business owners, Sherris Moreira, executive director of the Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the partnerships show how much the local business community is willing to support each other.
“We’ve been through the worst. When the steel mills went down, we got kicked in the teeth in a way most communities don’t, but we came back. We’re still in the process, but we found a way to come back from it,” she said. “It’s in our DNA, we just have to find out-of-the-box, collaborative ways to work together, and it’s happening again.”
Even when the pandemic ends, Moreira said the partnerships and businesses’ support for each other can carry through into the future.
“This community has been through rough stuff before, we’ll get through this together,” Moreira said.