Business Owners Shut Doors or Turn to Telephone Sales During Pandemic

LAKE CHARLES, La. — After the mandatory shutdown of nonessential businesses in Louisiana during this coronavirus pandemic, several small business owners have been faced with making a new way of life. Two local businesses — Bauhaus Salon and Haus Spa in Lake Charles and High Volt Vapor in Sulphur — are finding ways to adjust.

“We closed before the mandate; we actually made the decision on the Thursday before,” said Sarah Kennison, owner of Bauhaus Salon and Haus Spa. “I had some discussions with some medical professionals I’m friends with and discussions with my husband…and we decided to go ahead and voluntarily close for the safety of our team members and our guests.”

Before closing, the salon had installed a sink outside of the front doors that Monday for guests to wash their hands before entering as part of their initiative to keep everyone safe.

“It’s definitely a level of stress that I’ve never felt before. I owned the salon when we went through Rita and we were closed for that,” Kennison said. “That was a different type of stress, because it’s more of a known feeling of what’s happening. This was different because everything was very unknown.”

Kennison said she employs 27 people, including herself, and having to lay off employees during this shutdown has been stressful.

“Worrying about their well-being and their families and what that’s gonna look like, who can come back after this,” she said. “All of my girls qualify for unemployment as soon as the mandate on our industry…it was just a very strong stress.”

Kennison started in the industry in 2001, and opened the salon in July 2003.

“I am passionate about this industry. I love everything behind it and being the creative mind. I’m ready to get back to seeing my guests and seeing my team members,” she said. “I really miss them…the energy a salon has. The feeling of making people feel good.”

Kennison said she has been occupying her newfound time with her children and husband, enjoying family time.

“It’s been really, really good, just the strengthening of our family dynamic,” she explained.

One of her employees, Master Stylist Aryca Bussell, said she is finding her way despite recently having to file for unemployment. She’s worked at the salon for almost eight years.

“It’s surreal. Who knew it would come down to this?” Bussell said. “We (other stylists) have filed for unemployment and thankfully they accepted my application and I get that every week.”

Bussell found out about the closure of Bauhaus Salon and Haus Spa on the morning of March 19.

“I cried — it wasn’t like an angry cry, more of a sad cry of facing the reality that this was happening,” she said. “We all worry about money and we still had bills to pay, and to not see people … I was scared of what the future was going to bring,” she said.

She and her husband are parents to two children ages 4 and 1.

“I like to make people feel good about themselves — I get to form relationships with the guests on a different level,” she said. “My guests are more than just someone who sits in my chair. They’re more friends, family, I love each and every one of them. I like to make people feel pretty and good about themselves.”

Bussell said she looks forward to the day she can talk to her guests again and comfort them.

Bill Bingham, owner of High Volt Vapor, said his biggest fear is for the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control to “come in here and shut me down because it’s not cosmetically correct.”

According to guidelines, vapor shops are allowed to stay open as long as they abide by ATC rules — no walk-ins, no curbside service, all transactions done over the phone and the product being shipped to the customer.

The new system would require customers to call in their order, pay with card over the phone, and then have their order packaged and sent to them through the mail system, Bingham said.

“It costs like four or five dollars to send it, then they have to wait a few days,” Bingham said. “It slows us down. The thing is, I have to go to the post office where everyone is standing in line, and be in all the germs at the post office. And then the postman has got to go deliver it, and it takes a day or so.”

“The struggle that I have is being a nonessential business right now,” he said. “They wanted this place to close — but they gave me an option. It’s really, really difficult.”

His proposed look-no-touch system would involve customers ordering, then placing their method of payment in a plastic Ziplock in the designated spot on the front porch of the establishment. From there, the card or cash would be ran and the change, receipt and product would be put into a Ziplock to be delivered to the front porch again for the customer to pick up after waiting in the parking lot.

“The system I’m trying to set up is lookie-no-touchie … social distancing,” he said. “We’re doing the best we can. My problem right now is it’s too much trouble to do what we’re doing. The other thing is, there’s over nine million people that are vaping now.”

He said he has a responsibility to his customers but fears he’s risking his ATC license.

“What I’m doing now is a total experiment,” he said.

Bingham said he has around 20-50 customers, a day but is worried about losing business as time goes on.

“It’s tough. I’m working the store all by myself — I mean, I’ve got one other employee at the time helping me out,” he said. “I’ve had three that have quit, but I try to keep hours short. We have to deal with it the best we can.”