That quarantine haircut you gave yourself was your promise to the hairdressers of Minnesota: When this is over, there will be work for you to do.
It is not over. But as more and more people get vaccinated, more and more customers return, masked and shaggy, to turn their distressed tresses over to a professional.
"Everyone is just super-excited to be back in the salon, getting glam again, not doing their own bangs," said Faatemah Ampey, owner of SuiteSpot Salonspa, a chic and airy space overlooking the corner of Lake and Lyndale.
The neighborhood is scarred by the pandemic, by the death of George Floyd and the violence that followed. But around her, Ampey sees restaurants booking reservations again, customers browsing the shops, and clients sliding into her chair with a sigh of relief and a new appreciation of her craft.
Ampey's skill once landed her a spot on "Shear Genius," the reality television competition for hairstylists. But not even reality TV can prepare you for the challenge of a population that spent lockdown watching YouTube cut-your-own-bangs tutorials.
"I'm having a lot of fun right now," she said. Customers are coming back and they're eager to try new cuts, new color and big curtain bangs cut by someone who knows what they're doing.
After a year of feeling bad, Minnesotans are ready to look good.
Near downtown Minneapolis, the word went out from HiFi Hair and Records: "Rack 'em, stack 'em and wack 'em! We are open again and ready to cut that Covid hair!"
One by one, customers walk past the vinyl, the memorabilia, the blaring jukebox and slide back into the leopard print chairs with a simple request.
"I hear a lot of 'Don't laugh …' " said Jon Clifford, owner of the legendary Loring Park salon and music venue. "Today, I probably cut off a collective 38 inches of hair."
People come looking for bold color and bold hair. Some want to see how they look in the gray hairs 2020 gave them. They've known grief and loss, sickness and injustice. Now, some just want to know what they'd look like in a mohawk.
"We need to be happy. We need to feel happy," said Clifford, who loves his work more than anything in this world and missed his clients so much he started going into the shop during lockdown and making "dumb morning videos" that he posted on social media.
Often, he sang, filling the silence between the chairs. Sometimes he danced. Sometimes guest musicians dropped by to perform. Always, he ended with a promise, "There is beauty beyond the darkness. Believe."
On March 25, 2020, as it was slowly dawning on everyone that the lockdown could be long-term, Clifford pulled on a bunny suit and danced next to a jukebox blaring "Mr. Rabbit" across the empty shop: Every little soul must shine, the chorus reminded viewers. Every little soul must shine.
"Week two of wearing that same pajamas," he advised his followers on Facebook that day. "Take them off, throw them in the wash."
If the pandemic was hard on our hair, it was much, much harder on our hairdressers.
The personal services industry, which includes businesses like salons, spas and barber shops, lost more jobs to the pandemic than any other industry in the state: 68% of the personal services industry was out of work during the worst weeks of the shutdown in March and April 2020, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, and business has yet to bounce back.
In a year that took so much from them, these small businesses gave back.
Over the summer, with her business shuttered, her children frightened and Minneapolis burning, Ampey organized community food drives and started a beautification project to restore Lyn-Lake. So many people volunteered to help, she had to turn some away.
"It was tragic to see the destruction. Beautiful to see Minnesotans every morning, coming out at sunlight to sweep up the glass together," she said. "Our heart was still beating together, in spite of the tragedy."
She showed up for her community, and her community, in turn, showed up for her.
When she was unable to secure grants or financial assistance for SuiteSpot, an online fundraiser by her clients and fans brought in nearly $30,000 to keep the lights on and the rent paid.
"I know it's a really hard time for a lot of people, especially myself as a small business [owner] and a woman of color," she said. "But I still am optimistic about humanity."
She chose a career in beauty, she said, "because beauty makes people feel empowered. My goal is to continue to bring healing through acts of service."
Clifford worries about his beloved local musicians, hurting even more than he is after a year without tours, concerts or crowds. He worries about the bigger salons with more people on the payroll.
On March 14, the anniversary of the first day HiFi hair shut its doors, Dave Pirner and Ryan Smith of Soul Asylum dropped by to mark the day and mourn the hundreds of thousands of lives lost and the thousands of businesses that didn't make it this far.
"You can never spend the time with your friends that lasts the right time til you see them again," they sang. "Three-hundred and sixty-four days. There's a limit to how long I can wait."
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Jennifer Brooks is a local columnist for the Star Tribune. She travels across Minnesota, writing thoughtful and surprising stories about residents and issues.
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