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At one Detroit salon, a heavy decision to re-open

The northwest Detroit neighborhood near Sinai-Grace hospital was among the country’s most devastated by COVID-19. The hospital saw so many deaths at one point, it ran out of body bags.

Now, the commercial area along McNichols Avenue near the hospital is slowly starting to re-open. But the toll of COVID-19 still hangs heavy.

Michigan Radio’s Sarah Cwiek visited one hair salon in that neighborhood—and found lingering fear, along with lots of hope.

A community-based salon

Amanda Long is adamant that her salon, Shear Artistry Collections, be a welcoming space for everyone. She calls it a “multi-cultural one-stop shop.”

Credit Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
The entrance to Shear Artistry Collections.

“You know, we pride ourselves in servicing everybody. All hair textures, all skin types,” Long says. “We are a community-based salon, so we operate with our community in mind.”

But these days, the door is locked. No more walk-ins; it’s appointment-only. Masks are required. And when you come in, Long takes your temperature.

Long isn’t doing this to be exclusive. She’s doing it because this zip code—48235—was devastated by COVID-19.

“That is also why I have contemplated not even opening yet,” Long says. “My staff and I, we’ve been having weekly meetings, and they’re all, you know, everybody’s kind of like knowing that at any given time, we may shut back down.”

After consulting with her staff, Long decided to go ahead with re-opening on June 15. That’s the day many salons re-opened in Michigan.

Long calls it “super bittersweet.” She’s painfully aware of the risks. “I care-give for my mother and my sister,” she says. “My sister has MS. Q here, he care-gives for his mother, Sharika…we all care-give for a loved one.” 

Credit Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Amanda Long

“A different look”

But that trepidation is mixed with relief, even joy.

In the back of the shop, behind a gauzy curtain, Brandi Hawkins is happy to be back in stylist Sharika Marshall’s chair.

“I’m getting my locs re-tightened. After COVID, of course, we couldn’t come, ‘cause you know, they were closed. So this is my [first] re-tightening since…”

“February,” Marshall supplies.

“February,” Hawkins agrees.

Marshall focuses intently as she works on Hawkins’ locs. She’s wearing a glittery purple mask. She says she’s been relatively lucky—even though she lives in this hard-hit neighborhood, COVID-19 hasn’t touched her life too closely.

But Marshall did have a close call. One of her clients had COVID-19.

“But she was well,” Marshall says. “No ventilator, no hospital stay, she just had to do her 14-day quarantine.”

But Marshall admits it freaked her out a little bit. “Because she was in my chair, I think, four days before we shut down.”

Marshall has another job, too. She works in a factory making carseats. She hasn’t gone back to that job yet. She says soon after workers returned there in early May, a co-worker tested positive for COVID-19.

“And then come to find out about eight people end up testing positive,” Marshall says. “So everybody’s on edge, everybody’s like oh, I’m not going to work. And you know, it’s just scary. It’s scary.”

Back at the front of the salon, owner Amanda Long has a client in her chair. It’s her mom, Maria McCall.

“So what are we doing, anyway, here today?” McCall asks.

“Oh, we’re doing a little unicorn this and a little unicorn that. We’ll see,” Long replies.

“That last blend was beautiful. She had my hair blended so nice, it was gorgeous,” McCall says.

“It was all mint green and pink, and the curls all fell just right into the colors,” Long says.

Long’s teenage daughter Tatiare is there, painting beautiful designs on her and her grandmother’s arms. Tatiare goes to Detroit Renaissance High School, just down the street from Shear Artistry on McNichols. She’s a dancer, and on the robotics team, and she’s worried she’ll miss all that, even if classes resume in the fall.

Credit Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Amanda Long does her mom Maria McCall's hair.

They talk a little about Long’s sister, who just had a baby boy. Then the conversation turns to COVID-19. McCall mentions talking to her neighbor, an ICU nurse atSinai-Grace hospital,also right down the street.

“His horror stories…I can’t even repeat them,” McCall says. “They’re just…the way it was at Sinai-Grace, so inundated…”

“Terrifying,” Long says. "That’s why I was just like, nope, I don’t think we’re going to open. But…”

“Yeah. It’s just going to have to be a different look,” McCall agrees. “And we will adapt to it.”

Long laments that because of COVID-19, they can’t do much of the community-focused stuff they used to do at Shear Artistry—tutoring programs, feeding the homeless. But for now, she’s happy to be back to doing what she does best.

“We are in such a divided world, but we all got something in common—we like to look good,” Long says. “People from all walks of life come through here. All walks of life. And that makes me feel good.”

Long knows it might not last. The virus could come roaring back again. But for now, this is enough.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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