When Elena Ulanovsky learned that hair salons across the state were shutting down in March due to COVID-19, she did what every respectable woman who’s been going to the same colorist every two or three weeks for nearly a decade would do.
“I cried,” said Ulanovsky, 50, of Andover. “I’m a theater producer, so I always went before my performance. I was dying to come back.”
In May, her wish came true when the state allowed hair establishments to reopen and Dellaria Salons’ Newton location returned to what it had begun doing in March: servicing clients alfresco.
“I had to hide it from my children; they were so worried,” Ulanovsky said on Friday as Pam Sanidopoulos, Dellaria’s color director, touched up her roots in the salon’s sun-dappled garden. “But I feel safe here.”
Of Dellaria’s 17 other Massachusetts locations, Wellesley, Danvers, Natick, Marlboro and Acton have followed suit, catering to clients outdoors if they request it. And on Friday, the chain’s Kenmore Square salon in Boston will do the same.
But it has been a long road back for salons and barber shops across the state.
Dellaria shut down all of its locations and furloughed all 400 of its employees on March 20, said salon manager Ernie Bliudnikas.
For clients like Ulanovsky, the salons arranged curbside pickup of color products until Dellaria reopened on May 25. But the chain was able to bring back only about half of its staff. And many clients, particularly those 60 or older, were nervous about coming back because that age group is most vulnerable to the coronavirus.
“Our company realized quickly that if we are to survive, we need to pivot to operate under this new normal,” Bliudnikas said. “It’s better to be open every day and lose money than to be closed and make no money.”
So far, in addition to doing indoor services, Dellaria has anywhere from eight to 20 outdoor appointments daily for guests who would not otherwise be coming back right now, he said.
Madeline Steinberg, who has been going to the Newton salon for five years, was “thrilled” when it reopened. But she also was anxious about coming back because she was afraid of contracting the virus and infecting her 19-year-old son, who is immunosuppressed.
“I felt very strongly that I had to be careful, said Steinberg, 57, of Needham. “Otherwise, I could bring the virus home to him.”
She felt safe coming back to the salon, though, because it seemed to have taken the proper precautions.
Everyone has to wear a mask. And when clients enter the salon, staff take their temperatures and ask if they have had contact with anyone who has shown symptoms of the coronavirus, such as fever or dry cough, or if they recently have visited a state where there has been a spike in infections.
Then they are ushered downstairs to the garden, where there is a small waterfall that spills into a pond filled with large koi fish.
“I was thrilled when I found out I could have my hair done outdoors,” Steinberg said.
Demand for the company’s outdoor services is growing, Bliudnikas said, so Dellaria’s investing in tents, umbrellas and other equipment to accommodate the demand.
“Whatever makes the client happy,” Sanidopoulos said.