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The annoying, high-pitched whoosh of hair dryers is being heard less often at Last Tangle in Washington. The popular 19th Street NW hair salon in the downtown Golden Triangle is normally busy seven days a week.
“The average is maybe 10 heads a day, now it’s five or six,” says veteran stylist Therese Reese. “But it’s not the heads, it’s the services.” She says regular and walk-in clients may choose to postpone a more expensive color session, to forgo highlights, or skip a weave redo. “It’s kind of a sad time.” Reese is one of more than a dozen stylists at the salon, each with their own 10-or-so clients a day. And the sign board welcoming walk-ins is out on the sidewalk as usual, but walk-ins are down, too.
In a professional town like D.C., trips to the hairstylist are not just ego trips but vital parts of professional image and opportunity. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says there are thousands of cosmetology jobs in the D.C. area, one of the best places in the nation for such work that pays on average about $50,000 a year or more, although many assistants earn less.
All the salon workers, from the assistants to the hair-styling pros like Reese, are feeling the effects of the federal shutdown as government workers and government contractors worry about expenses and cut back in large and small ways.
Reese, who is 47 and lives on Capitol Hill, has an established clientele. “I’ve always done hair, I’ve never done anything else.” She leases a private room at Last Tangle. “Normally, when people come in and sit in my chair and I close the door, that’s when they’re pretty honest about what’s going on.” She told of a mother, a federal worker, and daughter duo who normally come in for services. The daughter was home from college. But this time, they said they couldn’t afford it. The daughter is on a college payment plan that requires a check every six months. Every little bit helps.
Reese says she has been an aggressive saver—and real estate investor—since she was burned by the government shutdown under President Clinton in the 1990s. For her private room at Last Tangle, she notes, “I have to write a check every Friday for this room no matter what is going on.” She says the owner of Last Tangle has to pay the landlord, too.
Across the expansive floor of Last Tangle, the stories are similar. And similar collateral damage extends to the local lunch carryout, the dry cleaners, and the reduced business at happy hour. Tens of thousands of low to moderate income workers feel the impact across the breadth of D.C.’s economy. The Golden Triangle neighborhood “is definitely quieter,” says Leona Agouridis, director of the Golden Triangle’s Business Improvement District. “This is the central business district of the city.”
“I think it is going to have a huge impact,” says Barbara Lang, a business consultant who built the DC Chamber of Commerce into an influential organization in the city. “It’s a disastrous impact and I don’t think this President cares.” Lang says she took an Uber ride this past weekend. The driver was an 83-year-old retired dress shop owner. The driver said he normally works a few hours a day just to make a little extra money. But he said he is now driving nearly all day because there are fewer riders. “The empathy gene that most of us were born with, the President doesn’t have,” Lang says.
Back at Last Tangle, stylist Reese has a small TV screen tuned always to MSNBC. “It’s on here 24/7,” she says. “My clients already know. I’m not turning the channel. I need to wean myself off. But I take a few days off and I’m saying, ‘I missed what?’”
On Monday, Mayor Muriel Bowser said the city is just beginning to see the ripple effects of the shutdown, from commercial shops to reduced fares on Metro. “People are not downtown shopping or going out to lunch.” Bowser and the governors of Maryland and Virginia have urged Trump to call off the shutdown gambit.
“It’s contagious,” Reese says at her empty salon chair. She fears that once people learn to cutback they don’t come back. “You know what, they will say, ‘I can blow dry my own hair.’ And the weekly people then may come just once a month.”
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