Life became more complicated in many ways in Northeast Ohio when the novel coronavirus emerged as a public health crisis in March of 2020.
Among other things, it got tougher for people to keep their hair looking nice and their bodies in peak physical condition.
For about a two-month span in 2020, hair salons, barber shops and related businesses were ordered by the Ohio Department of Health to close because of health and safety risks posed by COVID-19. A similar directive by ODH also forced the closing of gyms, health clubs and similar sites.
More than two years have passed since ODH issued separate declaration giving these same categories of businesses the go-ahead to reopen.
The News-Herald recently interviewed the owners of a Willoughby gym and a Mentor area hair salon, to learn more about how they successfully recovered from prolonged shutdowns of their businesses during the early part of the COVID-19 crisis.
Ohio Sports and Fitness
Ohio Sports and Fitness owner Frank Desico said he vividly recalls what ran through his mind in the late evening of March 16, 2020.
Specifically, he remembered his thoughts as he pulled out of the parking lot of his gym, located on Biltmore Place in Willoughby. He was heading home for the night after hearing earlier in the evening that gyms and related businesses in Ohio were being ordered by the state to close until further notice to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“I was looking at my gym, a place that I started from a box-cutter and rubber floor mats, with my father, painting it, from literally nothing,” Desico said. “To 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 that time.”
Desico originally opened Ohio Sports and Fitness at 36540 Biltmore Place in 2015.
After the state-ordered shutdown, Desico would go to his gym regularly to work out by himself, but let no one else in.
“It was the weirdest thing,” he said. “ For 4 ½ years, it was a 24-hour facility in which there was literally someone at the facility at any given time, and went to a time when it was completely desolate. It was very depressing. But hey, you push through it.”
Throughout the nearly 10 weeks of the state-mandated shutdown, which stretched from March 17 to May 26, Desico took steps to stay connected with the gym’s members.
“In that time frame, we’re pivoting, we’re doing online classes, Zoom stuff,” he said. “Any way that we could keep the community going.”
Desico estimated that about 95 percent of members continued paying their monthly dues throughout the 10-week closure — even though he offered to waive those costs.
“There were so many members who reached out to me personally, and said, ‘Hey, I want you to keep my membership billing, for the time that we’re closed, just so we can make sure that we have a home when we return,’ ” Desico said.
With nearly all of membership revenue still rolling in throughout the shutdown, Desico was able to cover all necessary expenses for his business.
Ohio gyms were authorized to reopen in late May of 2020, and OSF been going strong ever since.
In August of 2021, Desico moved the main gym of Ohio Sports & Fitness to a much larger building at 36445 Biltmore Place, Unit G, in Willoughby. His original gym now serves a secondary location for specific sports-skills training.
From the time OSF reopened on May 26, 2020, until present, memberships have doubled, Desico said.
“A lot of that, of course, came from a new and larger gym,” he said. “But I also do everything I can to ensure that I am providing my members with an understanding that I am a very active, present and caring owner, who wants to ensure that we’re providing the best possible place for people to come back from that (COVID shutdown and recovery) and have something really nice.”
Desico said that for himself and members of Ohio Sports and Fitness, working out again at the gym “was like a breath of fresh air.
“It was a revival almost — a re-enlightment — of my love and the love of others for fitness, and for the industry and what it provides.”
Jenniffer & Co.
Jennifer Pealer knew that she was heading into uncharted territory after closing her two salons on the night of March 18, 2020.
Earlier that same day, the Ohio Department of Health had ordered all hair salons and related enterprises to shut down indefinitely to help to stem the proliferation of COVID-19 cases.
“It was like, OK, where do we go from here? What’s the next step?” Pealer said, recalling her 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) closing turned into two months,” she said. “And for two months, I came to the salon every day, and got to get things in order that I might not have normally done. Let’s say, clean out stock rooms. First you went for the housekeeping duties. At first, we were thinking 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 get creative in order to generate revenue.
“We learned how to sell online,” she said. “We learned how to do retail pickup. We learned how to do retail delivery.”
During the eight-week hiatus, Jenniffer and Co. only sold hair-care products that customers were authorized to buy at the retail level.
“We did not sell any of our professional products,” she said. “We did not give people color to go. We gave them substitutes, like color conditioners. Or shampoos and conditioners that made highlights brighter longer.”
Pealer said Jenniffer & Co. also connected with customers through social media by regularly offering quick hints on hair care.
“We did ‘Tipsy Tuesdays,’ where every Tuesday, we would give a tip, such as 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 implement regulations on how clients would enter the buildings.
“Everyone had to wear a mask,” she said. “You had to call from parking lot, you had to let us know you were here, to check you in.”
As a general rule, clients were asked to not bring others into the salon with them. But there were a few exceptions.
“Anybody under 18 was allowed to bring in their parent,” Pealer said. “And/or if it was a condition where they needed to have supervision or assistance, and we would allow (a helper) to come in with them.”
Both Jenniffer & Co. salons became busy places, starting the first day back, and have continued to thrive ever since.
“The minute our clients could come back in the salon, they did,” Pealer said. “And we have such a great Jenniffer & Co. family of clients. They respect (our employees) as much as we respect them.”
Some of the safety measures launched in the reopening phase after the COVID-19 closure have been retained.
“To this day, we still wipe down our desks, still wipe down our shampoo chair and bowls and styling chairs,” Pealer said. “And we still electronically sanitize every night.”
Looking back on the shutdown and recovery, Pealer said those events turned out to be very educational.
“We learned from it, and we’ve taken the things forward from COVID that were in our best interest, ” Pealer said. “I could only hope and imagine other people in this industry would do the same. Take some of those sanitizing features, some of those protocols (established during the reopening of salons in COVID-19) and use them to our benefit.”