When the scissors stopped snipping and the barber pole was switched off, no one knew how long it would be until professional haircuts would once again become available — but the time has finally come.
It has been more than two months since beauty salons and barbershops were forced to close by the state of Minnesota during the COVID-19 pandemic, but on Monday stylists were able to return to the profession they love.
“We’re excited to be back,” said Debbie Claffey, owner of Salon Twenty-Five in Le Center. “The girls are enjoying the camaraderie. All our clients are happy to be back and they’re abiding by our rules. They don’t seem to have a problem with the guidelines that we give them.”
“I just hope there’s not another shutdown,” Claffey continued. “We’ve worked so hard to reopen and we hope we can still keep going.”
Salon Twenty-Five has instituted a number of new rules in reopening. Before customers can walk in, they must wait outside in their car to give staff time to see other clients and disinfect the workspace. The salon also provides hand sanitizer to customers. This is in addition to state guidelines which require barbershops, salons and spas to maintain social distancing, keep maximum occupancy at 25%, see clients by appointment and ensure customers and staff wear face masks.
There’s been a sharp demand for hair services since the COVID-19 outbreak. Combined with the 25% capacity limit and other restrictions, salons have had a lot to juggle before getting to reopen.
“The week before [reopening] was fairly hectic,” said Claffey. “We’ve been trying to get everybody booked and calling people back to try and get them in. We had a list going so that we’re on the books and people can get in.”
Around the region
In Waseca, Cassie Meister, owner of Cassie’s Classic Cuts in Waseca, felt a similar urge to reopen.
“I was in a bad place for probably a good month,” said Meister. “I didn’t think this would go on as long as it has and it was just pretty depressing in the beginning, but I eventually realized that I need to make the best of it.”
While Meister was able to distract herself with new hobbies and additional time with her family, she admits that she was itching to get customers back into her chair. In order to assure that she would be able to open her salon as soon as the state allowed, Meister began ordering personal protective equipment, creating new signs that list the new rules, and doing a remodel to her shop.
“Honestly I feel like we already had a lot of things in place that we needed — all the sanitizing steps have been implemented forever,” Meister said about feeling confident that the beauty industry will be able to smoothly transition into its new normal. “We’re just doing a little bit more, like making sure that we sanitize the desk each time when we check out our clients. I’m not that worried.”
Nate Paschke, owner of Nate’s Barber Shop in St. Peter, said masks will pose an interesting challenge for his barbers. While the issue of shaves or work on beards and mustaches are a moot point at this time, being that those services are not currently allowed, Paschke said that even haircuts could prove difficult with a mask on.
“We’re all required to wear masks the entire time we’re here, so the question I get asked often is how do we do that?” Paschke said, noting that when they’re doing close cuts for men a mask can most certainly get in the way. “We are recommending people wear the masks that go around the ears, and if we’re still having trouble with that they should be able to hold the mask up with their hand. We think we can do that fairly intelligently.”
Though Paschke didn’t plan to open his shop up until June 8 — largely due to the fact that he is still waiting for a new air purification system to come in the mail — he has put plenty of elbow grease into preparing his 134-year-old barbershop for the “new normal” that is being thrust upon him. While some of it is interior changes, such as hanging up clear shower curtains between each chair, other changes more directly impact his shop’s culture and atmosphere.
“It’s really going to be interesting for a while, because we’ll be doing half as much business as we switch from a walk-in form to appointments only,” Paschke said. “Each haircut takes a different amount of time, but for now, we’re just blocking off an hour for each appointment to allow for the sensitization process.”
Paschke, who openly admits to be a go-with-the-flow type of guy, said that schedules and making appointments have never come naturally. Years ago, he said Mondays were dedicated to appointments only, but it just worked better for him to stick with walk-ins. Even though the elimination of walk-in appointments will be a change, though, Paschke asserts that the climate will remain the same.
“We’re still going to have that joking around and being in a big open area together,” Paschke said. “I’m hoping to cheer everyone up when they’re in here because this is really a place where people can let their hair down a little bit.”
More time needed
Not everyone has been able to open right away though. In Le Sueur, Tracy Grievs, owner of Serendipity Salon, is hoping to open in mid-June, but it may not be easy. As someone with asthma, Grievs recognized that she is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Grievs also operates her skincare and nail salon out of her own home, and she’s reluctant to open up her house to customers until she sees that case numbers don’t spike.
“Where other people may have a workspace that they can go to that has a lot of people visiting, they can then leave that and go back to their home,” Grievs. “I don’t have that opportunity because it is in my home.”
While she’s holding off for now, Grievs said she’s gotten calls from many of her customers who have been patiently waiting until she could reopen and is booked for the month. Grievs said that she has a loyal clientele, many of whom she’s been serving for more than 20 years.
While there’s plenty of interest, Grievs noted that there were plenty of challenges that come with reopening. A concern of hers and friends that own salons has been acquiring enough face masks during a time when masks are scarce.
The 25% capacity requirement also slows down business. Grievs plans on lengthening her workday by two hours in order to make up for time spent disinfecting between clients. But that still won’t make up for the loss of income in having to see less clients per day. Nevertheless, Grievas said that some income is better than no income.
Another challenge facing the business is customer dropoff. While many of her customers are loyal, Grievs said that as a nail salon, she’s relied on customers getting the habit of getting their acrylic nails done every two week. But since the shutdown, some clients have fallen out of the habit or dropped their acrylic nails entirely and don’t intend on coming back.
“That’s a huge loss of income for me. the monthly income of one acrylic client is approximately $100,” said Grievs. “So if I lose four clients in a month, that is a decrease of $400 for me. It’s huge.”
Despite the challenges, Grievs is putting her trust in the state’s strategy to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“We’re all playing the waiting game,” said Grievs. “It is what it is. It’s unprecedented times; you have to do the best that you can do. You have to trust that our governor and the officials in charge are receiving the correct information and as difficult as this has been on businesses, we have to trust the numbers.”
Out near Ellendale, Rhonda Hareid feels equally confident in welcoming customers back into her at-home salon, Looks Unlimted. After she shook off the initial disbelief of being shut down, Hareid refocused and immediately went into preparation mode.
“I just wanted to be ready on the other side of this and know that I would be ready if they were going to let us open,” Hareid said about her months of cleaning, organizing and ordering additional materials for her salon. “I’ll be wearing a mask and a cover up, gloves that I change after each client, new capes — everything. I’ve already had to reschedule four times and I made sure to clarify each time with my customers the plan so we all know what’s going on when the time comes.”
For Hareid, she will have her customers wait in their own vehicles until she lets them know that it is time for their appointment and that the can come inside. She said this will allow her to do a proper and thorough sanitizing of the entire area between each customer. As outlined in the state’s guidelines, both Hareid and Meister will require customers to wear masks at all times during their visits.
“I don’t want to wear a mask, I’m kind of scared out of my mind for that, but the people who aren’t following those rules, I think are just very disrespectful to our industry,” Meister said, noting that she has had frustrations with hairdressers who have been providing haircuts during the stay-at-home and stay-safe orders. “I’ve heard about the complications that can come from wearing a mask all day, though, and so I’m not looking forward to that probably more than anything.”
Regardless of the learning curve, the professionals are simply ready to get back to work in make their clients look and feel good once again.
“Nothing is better than sending you out the door with a big smile on your face,” Hareid said. “That makes my day every time.”
Military life wasn’t easy for now veteran Emily Teberg. She left service in 2003 on medical leave after a traumatic experience, but when she got back home to Minnesota, her troubles didn’t stop. Unable to cope, she turned to drug use and her life was on a downward spiral until, Teberg said, Jim Golgart saved her life.
Golgart is retiring after serving as the Le Sueur County Veterans Service officer for more than 20 years. In that time, Golgart has become well known among local veterans for his compassion, tough love and willingness to go above and beyond the requirements of the job.
Teberg saw more compassion from Golgart than she ever expected. When Teberg needed to take her leave from service, Golgart worked with her father to get her out. When she became hooked on drugs, it was Golgart who personally drove her to rehab.
Teberg recalled that Golgart showed up at her workplace in Shakopee, telling her boss that Teberg would not return to work until she was recovered. He then turned to Teberg, and told her to get in his car.
“Of course, I was mad,” said Teberg. “I was upset at him and I walked into the treatment center and said ‘I’m done. I’m not staying. I don’t want to be doing this.’ He said, ‘Well I’m leaving. You are not getting in my vehicle and you can lose my number and find another veterans service officer if you don’t complete this. You have to because otherwise you will not be here.’
It was a tough love approach, but that tough love was the unexpected push that Teberg needed. She completed her 30-day program, and all the while, Golgart checked in on her to make sure that she would do just that.
“Jim saw something in me that needed to be saved,” said Teberg.
Le Sueur County
Golgart came into his position as the director of the Le Sueur County Veterans Service Office as a veteran himself and a member of a big military family. He served in the United States Army until retiring in 1999; he also has three brothers that joined and a son currently on active duty in the Army. With service playing such a fundamental role in his life, Golgart said he developed a passion for helping veterans.
“The drive was the passion to help veterans and their families,” said Golgart. “To get them the benefits that they earned and they deserved.”
His favorite part of the job? Getting a veteran’s claim for benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs approved. When he has conversations with veterans about those claims, Golgart said he can see their lives change for the better.
“Just seeing the veteran’s life change as a result of some of the benefits that they get,” he said. “Getting them health care, getting them service connected disability for something that happened to them while in the military. Getting that accomplished and seeing the changes in their way of life is what it’s all about.”
Golagart’s drive to assist veterans eventually took him to the national stage. In 2014 and 2015, Golgart served as the president of the National Association of County Veterans Services Officers. The NACVSO constitutes 1,800 members from 36 states. As president of the organization, Golgart would go to Washington D.C., advocating and promoting the organization’s goals of standardized quality training in county veterans services offices across the country and collaboration with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
Locally, Golgart sought to bring more funds to veterans by establishing the Le Sueur County Veterans Service Council. The council holds golf fundraisers at courses across the county every year to raise money for vans to transport veterans to VA medical clinics and to assist veterans in need.
While the work is important, it’s also challenging. Golgart said he’s had his ups and downs while working as a VSO. Connecting veterans with the care they need is one of the most uplifting parts of his work, but sometimes it isn’t enough. Over his career, Golgart has encountered some extreme circumstances, including two veterans who ended up committing suicide.
“I think about those veterans every day,” said Golgart. “It’s difficult. You do everything that you can to help, but unfortunately those demons stay with them.”
Mental health has become one of the most significant problems facing former service members, said Golgart. Helping veterans bear and overcome those issues has been the most challenging part of the job.
In handling claims for health and disability, Golgart said that he’s favored a two-pronged approach of connecting veterans with the benefits they can receive for disability and then also connecting them with treatment for the disability.
Over his time at Le Sueur County, Golgart has seen growing support for veterans.
“We’ve changed a lot of lives over the last 20 years,” said Golgart. “When I first started, there was only $1 million dollars worth of benefits coming into Le Sueur County. Last fiscal year there was almost $13.8 million worth of benefits coming into Le Sueur County. About $6 million is compensation and about $6 million is health care. It’s an impact. That money is going to the veteran and they’re going to spend it within the community of Le Sueur County so it does make a big difference.”
A Lasting Impression
Veterans across Le Sueur County spoke on how Golgart changed their lives.
One such veteran was Rick Walters, who started seeing Golgart after moving to Cleveland. While Walters was satisfied with the Nicollet County Veterans Service Office, Golgart’s ambition quickly impressed him.
“He’s done wonders for veterans around the area and personal friends of mine,” said Walters. “He’s changed my life quite a bit. I had a heart problem about a year ago, and he helped me out on that.”
Like Teberg, Walters appreciated Golgart’s willingness to speak his mind and offer tough love when needed.
“He didn’t mince any words,” said Walters. “He’s aggressive, but he’s aggressive in the right way.”
Veterans and colleagues admire Golgart, not only for his straightforwardness, but his compassion and willingness to go above and beyond his duties to help veterans and ensure that they are safe and healthy.
“Ever since the coronavirus has been around, he calls on you and checks on you.” said Walters. “And he didn’t have to do that, but he does it. You appreciate that. You know he’s thinking about you all the time.”
Ed Keogh, president of VFW Post 5340 in Montgomery and the Le Sueur County Veterans Service Council added, “(Golgart) would go out of his way to make sure every veteran needing assistance received it. He had made sure each veteran in Le Sueur County received the benefits they deserved from the VA. He would not hesitate to assist veterans when he was called by Le Sueur County agencies. He just was a go-getter; he helped every veteran that he knew.”
Golgart was also a friend to American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts in Le Sueur County. Whenever there was relevant news or changes in protocol, Golgart would be quick to relay that information to organizations within the county.
“Twice a year he came to our VFW meetings, and twice a year he came to our Legion meetings,” said Le Sueur VFW Commander Shannon Frost. “He did the same with all the Legion and VFW posts in the county. If we mentioned that a veteran was sick, he would always ask about them and follow up. He didn’t just do his job when someone came to see him. He honestly always wanted to follow up and see how people were doing.”
Those follow-ups extended even to veterans that left Le Sueur County. After completing rehab, Teberg eventually moved to North Dakota, but Golgart never moved out of her life. After helping Telberg get the treatment she needed, the VSO had practically become family, and Telberg affectionately refers to him as “Uncle Jim.” Golgart has even continued to help connect Teberg with VA benefits and treatments.
“He really cares and he’s compassionate,” said Teberg. “Where someone’s everyday struggle may not be the same from veteran to veteran, he will listen. He is there for a phone call … It just says a lot about his personality and character that he will go above and beyond.”
When Golgart concluded it was time to retire, he ensured she would have proper care afterwards. Teberg said Golgart had been preparing her for his retirement for two years prior to his resignation and searched for a VSO that he believed she could trust. It was just another example of his above and beyond approach.
“If there could be 10 more Jim Golgarts as veterans services officers, life would be so much better,” said Teberg.
Le Sueur residents may have to kiss their 2020 plans of swimming, skating and working out at the Community Center goodbye.
On May 25, the Le Sueur City Council voted to close the Community Center for the rest of the year. The decision came after the Personnel and Budget Committee reviewed seven different plans for the center and found that opening it would not be possible without a deficit of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Le Sueur Community Center is in a dire financial position. Having been closed since March 16, the facility has gone two and a half months without revenue. As of May 1, the Community Center had $477,500 remaining out of the $503,000 allocated to the facility in the 2020 budget, but those funds are likely to evaporate quickly with no income source.
To have the center open and fully operational, it would cost more than $117,000 a month and opening up just the fitness center, while keeping the pool and ice rink closed, would still cost $95,000 a month. The cheapest option available to the city would be to keep it closed, which would cost $72,000 a month.
Following that cheapest option is a necessity for the city of Le Sueur. The budget for the Community Center is required to be balanced and if operational expenses are over budget, the expense would need to be subsidized through the city’s general fund. The city estimated that if the center opened up just the fitness center, while following CDC guidelines, the center would run a deficit of $262,000. The scenario left the council with only one choice: to close the Community Center through the rest of the year.
“It’s something we don’t want to do, but our hands are tied,” said City Administrator Jasper Kruggel. “We can’t open the facility. We have no revenue generation right now.”
But Kruggel described these projections as “a worst case scenario.” The city has directed the closure of the center under the assumption that the facility will not receive any stimulus from the state of Minnesota or the federal government through bills like the CARES Act.
Kruggel said that the city is still holding out hope that the Community Center could benefit from a potential stimulus disbursement from the Minnesota Legislature’s June special legislative session. If the Community Center were to receive stimulus dollars, Kruggel said that the city would reassess opening the facility.
“If we do receive outside funding, we’ll be back at the drawing board and doing another analysis on how we can open things up and the different things we’re going to have to do to ensure the safety of our patrons,” said Kruggel.
The city will also be working with major users of the Community Center — the Le Sueur-Henderson School District and the Bulldogs Hockey Association — with the goal of opening the ice arena if finances allow.
To determine how the Community Center would operate while closed, the City Council looked at seven different scenarios. Of those scenarios, only two were expected to leave the Community Center budget with a surplus.
In Scenario 4, all part-time staff at the center would remain furloughed and the three full-time staff would have their hours cut to one-third of their normal hours. Under this plan, the Community Center would have nearly $2,000 left over at the end of the year. In Scenario 6, all staff would be furloughed on July 1, leaving the Community Center with $17,000 in its budget.
However, the city described these scenarios as infeasible. While the Community Center would be closed, there is still essential work that would need to be done including general maintenance, the building of a new gym wall and the implementation of new software.
“Staff is still working on the Community Center,” said Councilor John Favolise.“They’re still doing things. When it’s finally open, we should be in a really good position. We’ll have new software all being put together far more efficiently, more comprehensively than anything we’ve ever had and staff is working on that. There’s the new wall area upstairs in the fitness gym with cubbies in it that’s being built. There’s freshening up and everything else, plus they have to make sure that they are meeting their own [reopening] plan before they can open.”
Instead of these plans, the Personnel and Budget Committee recommended that the City Council approve Scenario 7. This plan would furlough all employees except for the manager, who would work 16 hours a week. The Community Center would be left with a deficit of $443 at the end of the year, but the city hoped that efficiencies would allow the Community Center to break even.
Kruggel explained that the committee favored Scenario 7 because preparing a budget for 2021 was a major priority for the Community Center. The budgeting process has been complicated by COVID-19, which has left the city uncertain about how many people will use the Community Center once it opens up again. Since the manager is the staff member most familiar with the budgeting process, Kruggel advocated for giving that person more hours.
Six of the seven members of the council supported Scenario 7, but Councilor Marvin Sullivan voted no on the measure, favoring Scenario 4. Sullivan believed that 4 was preferable because it would allow the Community Center to be staffed throughout the week and it would ensure that all full-time employees could continue working throughout the year.
“The big downfall I see with scenario 7 is our Community Center does not operate without all those staff,” said Sullivan. “I understand that we’re not operating for the rest of the year under any of these scenarios, but come Jan. 1 next year, if that’s the plan we’re going to open back up, we’ve essentially taken this job away from those other two parties and they haven’t been hands on with anything involved in the Community Center, so there’s going to be a period of time where it’s new to them again.”
The councilors that did vote in favor of Scenario 7 did so with reluctance, expressing their hope that the Community Center would be allowed to open this year with outside funding.
“If any of our assumptions change, particularly stimulus funding for the hardships caused by COVID-19 pandemic, this would give staff an opportunity to do the actions they need to do based on what we have in front of us to work with,” said Mayor Gregory Hagg. “This is something that could be changing daily, weekly — we don’t know. It’s just like every day with this COVID-19, it seems like something is changing on it.”