Unemployed and Unemployable

In May 2020, Stuff by Jane Porter3 Comments

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When it comes to working during the shutdown, salon, spa and other personal service employees have the fewest options.

Jenny Abhau has been thinking hard about ways to help her staff of around a dozen during the coronavirus shutdown.

Her massage therapists and estheticians legally can’t work at all in their chosen professions and Abhau—the owner of White Dahlia, a day spa in north Raleigh that’s been operating for 14 years—says, beyond encouraging them to apply for unemployment insurance, she wants to help them out. 

Jenny Abhau of White Dahlia

“Their options are really limited,” Abhau says. “I told my employees if they want to come in and help me paint and clean, I could pay them an hourly wage. I know some of my employees have gotten temporary jobs. It’s hard because their skill sets are so specific and right now, they just can’t do anything.”

Raleigh is home to more than 34,000 small businesses and of those, nearly 750 offer person-to-person services. These businesses employ hair stylists, makeup artists, estheticians, massage therapists, laser technicians and countless other professionals. Unlike restaurants, many of which have chosen to continue operating with curbside and delivery services to help generate money during the shutdown, personal services professionals and the business owners that employ them don’t have that option. 

“Right now, there’s not a place on Planet Earth our estheticians and laser providers could work in their professions,” says Kile Law, who owns Blue Water Spa in northeast Raleigh with her husband, Dr. Michael Law. “They are unemployed and unemployable, so it is very difficult and they are very eager to return to work when it is safe to do so.”

But business owners like Law and Abhau are finding creative ways to help their businesses and staff hang on. 

White Dahlia is membership based and Abhau says she sent out an email to the spa’s some 600 members offering to pause their memberships while the spa is closed but asking them, if possible, to continue paying for their monthly memberships in exchange for a free massage to be redeemed when the spa opens again. 

“That enables me to pay my therapists for painting and cleaning,” Abhau explains. She also gave members the option to tip their favorite therapists while they’re out of work. 

“Our therapists have been with us for a long time and our members are concerned about them,” Abhau continues. “Lots of people wrote in saying, ‘Yes, keep my membership, yes, I want to tip so and so for the month, keep us in the loop.’ That was a great way for our members to show our therapists how much they are concerned about them and love them.”

As with restaurants, selling gift cards to use later has been another way for spas and salons to make some money while their businesses are closed. 

Blue Water is running a promotion where anyone who buys a gift card for themselves automatically buys a free spa service for a front line healthcare worker. 

“Sometimes people have a hard time with self care and can be given to feeling like it’s a selfish endeavor,” Law says. “This lets people know, during this time, that giving to yourself can feel good because you’re giving the same thing to a healthcare worker.”

Other ways to help out?

“Leave a 5-star Google review or shout out your favorite [personal service professional] on social media,” Abhau suggests. “It’s so easy, it doesn’t cost a thing and it gets your favorite person, favorite stylist or esthetician or therapist really seen in online searches.”

As with other industries and organizations, fundraising models for workers—such as the NC Restaurant Worker Relief Fund and Ashley Christensen’s and the Frankie Lemmon Foundation’s Triangle Restaurant Workers Relief Fund—are popping up to help provide some assistance for personal care professionals. 

The Raleigh Community Groomers Fund is raising funds for “hair stylists, barbers, massage therapists, estheticains and nail techs who are completely shut down, can’t perform services at home and don’t have the ability to offer delivery or cursbide services during this COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the group’s social media. Anyone who wants to can make a donation to the fund in the name of their favorite business; at the end of the collecting period, all the businesses that have been nominated will split the money raised. Additionally, Raleigh-based Virtue Labs is aiming to raise $100,000 for its employees with a GoFundMe campaign—it had raised over $16,000 by mid-April. 

But the best thing Raleigh residents can do, Abhau and Law say, is to buy gift cards and support your personal care service providers in any way you can. 

“[Blue Water Spa] has never been in a position where we needed to ask for help,” Law says. “Now, people come to us asking for help and we ask the community to please help so we are able to complete the circle and help our community. If you’ve ever appreciated work Blue Water Spa has done, we are asking to please help us.”

To donate to the Raleigh Groomers Fund, visit raleigh19.com

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  1. Well done!
    Jenny, you and countless other small business owners provide such valuable services to your communities!
    You’re a superstar!

  2. We love a White Dahlia and are so proud of Jenny for what she has accomplished. Let’s all try to do our part in supporting small businesses!

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