Getting Your Hair, Nails and Tattoos Done at Home

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In the middle of May, Ashley Barton sipped a mimosa in her best friend’s apartment in Whitestone, Queens, while she enjoyed her first professional manicure and pedicure since New York enacted stay-at-home orders.

The in-house experience, with candles burning and soft music playing, was a game changer. Before the pandemic, Ms. Barton, a 33-year-old publicist, would drive from her apartment in Long Island City to a salon near her parents’ house on Long Island to get a mani-pedi. But not anymore.

“There is something about the comfort of doing this in your own home, to have someone holding your foot like it is the most amazing thing,” Ms. Barton said. “I won’t forget when I heard the clippers come out. It sounded like someone was popping bottles of Dom Pérignon.”

Though New York City hair and nail salons reopened on July 6, Ms. Barton doubts she’ll return to them anytime soon. She has since become a regular client of Green Spa on the Go, a manicurist from Forest Hills that offers in-home manicures and pedicures that range from $140 to $300, depending on location. Ms. Barton now gets them done with her parents at their home every two weeks.

“I’m not ready to sit in a nail salon, even with this protective gear. I’d rather just be in my parents’ backyard doing my nails and toes,” she said. “I can control the environment.”

As the country undergoes a Sisyphean-seeming reopening with infection rates rising in many regions, many Americans are still wary of venturing out. To accommodate skittish clients who have neglected their basic grooming for months, a cadre of service providers — personal trainers, hair stylists, tattoo artists, pet groomers and spiritual advisers — have been making house calls, or plan to start doing so soon. They have been fielding calls from clients eager to receive services in their living rooms, backyards and balconies.

For providers who always had an in-home component to their business, this period of seclusion has proved to be a boon, giving them an edge at an anxious time. They’ve attracted new clients who never considered house calls before, but have since discovered that they like private pampering.

“We believe this is a long term shift in consumer behavior,” said Amy Shecter, the chief executive of Glamsquad, an in-home beauty company headquartered in New York City that offers services including blowouts, manicures, pedicures and makeup application.

Glamsquad has resumed its usual services and introduced haircuts in New York, Florida, Boston and Washington, D.C. In Los Angeles, the company moved services outdoors after the state rolled back its reopening plans. (Its San Francisco market remains closed.) Workers undergo safety training to reduce the chance of coronavirus transmission and wear personal protective gear during visits.

“This is our moment,” said Ms. Schecter. “People are going to shift to doing this service in-home and they’re going to shift to providers like us.”

Credit…Nina Westervelt for The New York Times

Marianella Aguirre, the founder of Green Spa on the Go, which specializes in house calls in New York, Connecticut and the Hamptons, also sees her business model as one that could thrive in the current environment, with anxious clients worried about squeezing into crowded nail salons.

“It’s incredible,” she said. “It’s like we were set up for this.”

Before the pandemic, Ms. Aguirre received about five calls a week from new clients. Now she receives as many a day. Nearly all of them request that the service be provided in a backyard. “They are desperate and they don’t want to wait anymore,” she said.

At-home services have always been a niche offering, and there is no data to track if the industry has grown during state-mandated stay-at-home orders, since such services that occurred during that time would have likely been clandestine.

But interest does not appear to be limited to the beauty industry. At Groomit, which provides in-house pet grooming services in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, business is up 30 percent since the company started offering services again according to a founder, Sohel Kapadia. “Even though half of New York City is empty,” said Mr. Kapadia, referring to the residents who fled the city as it shut down, “the new customers are making up for the losses of the old customers.”

After months spent huddling at home, many Americans feel safer on their sofa than they do almost anywhere else. But a living room is not necessarily a safer location for a blowout than a salon. With good ventilation, adequate physical distancing and enough personal protective equipment, a salon may actually be less risky than a small, cramped apartment, even if more people pass through the salon. Grooming services may not be safe in any setting in areas where cases are rising, like South Florida.

“We still don’t know that much about transmission even though we’re bombarded with information about what we do know,” said Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “Is it safer to have more people in a space, but in a space that is bigger and has better ventilation and has better masking? We can’t really quantify what the differences are.”

Credit…Nina Westervelt for The New York Times

Joey Chavez, a tattoo artist in Corona, Calif., was able to reopen his tattoo parlor Trusted Tattoo in mid-June, but had been offering services to clients out of a mobile tattoo bus, the Body Art Bus, which he would drive to clients’ homes in the weeks before the shop reopened. He sanitized the vehicle between clients, used disposable equipment and limited the number of people in the space to only himself and client.

“It is a lot safer for us to come to their homes,” said Mr. Chavez, who charges a $250 fee for the service on top of the $150-per-hour fee for a tattoo. “We bring a fully disinfectable mobile tattoo parlor.”

Before the pandemic, the Body Art Bus was primarily used for social occasions like bachelorette and birthday parties, and once the tattoo parlor reopened, he began bringing the bus to smaller house parties again. The bus, which he has operated for 10 years, has attracted celebrity clients too, including Katy Perry, who rented it for an event, and Tech N9ne, who brought the bus along on a tour. But now, Mr. Chavez sees the bus as a way to showcase how safe body art can be during a pandemic. “There are a lot of people who are afraid” to go back to a parlor, he said.

Samuel Sanchez is one of them. Mr. Sanchez, 49, a substitute teacher who’s studying speech pathology at California State University San Marcos, had a March appointment at Mr. Chavez’s studio to restore a 25-year-old dragon tattoo etched across his back. But as news of coronavirus percolated through California, Mr. Sanchez’s wife told him to cancel. “I felt like the universe was saying maybe you shouldn’t do this,” he said.

Mr. Sanchez, who lives in Menifee, Calif., was devastated. Two years earlier, he had been in a serious car accident, with injuries and subsequent surgeries that left deep scarring across his back, severing his tattoo. He saw his window to get the tattoo restored closing.

But after Mr. Chavez showed him the bus and the equipment, Mr. Sanchez was convinced that it was the safest way to get inked. “The whole thing is pampered. You’re sitting on killer chairs. He sterilized everything. You sign a waiver. You walk into the bus and only the tattoo artist and you,” Mr. Sanchez said. “I felt like the bus was the most sterile thing I could do.”

In mid-June, Mr. Sanchez had the first of four sessions to restore the tattoo. During that appointment, which took about four hours, he discovered another upside to a bus: He could avoid the prying eyes of other customers at a crowded tattoo parlor. “It takes all the machismo out of it,” he said. “You don’t got all these bystanders and people watching to see if you’re squirming or not. It’s you and your guy.”

Reopening a business that makes house calls during a pandemic is not without its risks. On June 27, Mr. Chavez had to shut down Trusted Tattoo and the bus for two weeks after a client tested positive for coronavirus soon after a Body Art Bus tattoo session. Mr. Chavez and another tattoo artist who had also been on the bus quarantined for two weeks. Mr. Chavez reopened his businesses on July 13, only for local health department officials to shut them down almost immediately, as the state tightened its quarantine restrictions.

“It’s impossible to plan. I had to cancel 14 days of clients,” Mr. Chavez said. “It makes it hard to do anything.”

Credit…Calla Kessler for The New York Times

But for those who can receive them, house calls can be a salve for people isolated in a difficult time. In May, clients started calling Nini Grace, a spiritual life coach and medium in Avon-by-the-Sea, N.J., requesting house calls. By June, she had begun visiting clients in their homes again, holding sessions mostly in people’s backyards and charging $90 per person for the visits. Ms. Grace said her business has tripled, and she’s now booked through October for home visits.

Ms. Grace wears a mask when she greets the clients, but once everyone is settled outdoors and at a safe distance, she usually removes it to start the session.

“This is such a desperate time with so many unknowns for folks,” she said. “They just needed some comfort.”

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