VIRGINIA — Bleu A Salon & Spa was all set for its grand opening celebration March 27, complete with free makeup applications by celebrity makeup artist and aesthetician Brooke Fleetwood, who planned to show up in her bright, hot pink Mercedes SUV.
COVID-19, however, put an end to that.
Like other hair and nail salons and spa-like businesses, Bleu was included in Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s March 17 executive order, which closed non-essential businesses in the state through at least March 27 to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. That order was later extended. And like other salons and spas, Bleu could not offer services until the governor re-opened them June 1.
The thing is, the brand-new Bleu A Salon & Spa never had the opportunity to open in the first place. Because the small business was not open by Feb. 13, it did not qualify for federal and state financial relief programs, such as the Payroll Protection Program, Minnesota Department of Unemployment and Economic Development low-interest loans or unemployment benefits.
Yet, the salon still had monthly bills to pay.
“We didn’t think it would be easy” opening a new small business, said co-owner Barbara Bozicevich. “But a pandemic was not on the list of risks.”
When the state’s non-essential businesses shut down, Bozicevich said she “went in shutdown mode” and she “felt hopeless and helpless.”
She and daughter, Taylor Bozicevich, an aesthetician and cosmetologist, along with husband, David, who rounds out the spa’s ownership, had spent a year developing the brand and renovating the space, located at 1008 Eighth St. S., in Virginia.
Much time had gone into planning for the big party to show off the spa’s colorful boho pop art-style, where each piece of art, each newly constructed room for services ranging from eyelash extensions and eyebrow microblading to makeup and massage, was meticulously painted, wall-papered and decorated.
The grand opening was to include food and beverages, games and door prizes, even a Mesabi Humane Society fundraiser. And, yes, there was to be a guest appearance by the flashy, color-pink-loving Fleetwood, of Hudson, Wis., owner and president of BB Makeup Aesthetics & Cosmetics.
Taylor Bozicevich had previously managed a BB franchise in Duluth; Bleu sells and uses in its services the long-lasting makeup products that can be worn daily, but are especially appropriate for special occasions.
As the coronavirus began to spread across the country, however, the salon and spa’s focus turned toward preparing to open in the new global world of COVID-19.
Taylor obtained Barbicide COVID-19 certification through a new, online program designed to present the most current safety information to beauty professionals.
She had hoped to run a “green” salon that used environmentally friendly cleaning products. But COVID-19 also interfered with that idea.
The salon is following COVID-19 guidelines set by the Minnesota Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Minnesota Board of Cosmetology. Guidelines include using United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved disinfecting products.
“We take the virus seriously and are not begrudgingly following guidelines,” noted Barbara Bozicevich, who has a background in healthcare. “I’m also a rule-follower. If they say to do ‘X, Y, Z,’ I will do X, Y, Z.”
The salon did not receive any funding for purchasing PPE (personal protective equipment) and sanitizing products, which Bozicevich added are expensive consumables.
Bleu opened — for the first time — June 1, along with existing salons and spas across the state. Some salons on the Iron Range, such as Regis and Great Clips, experienced hours-long wait times during the first week or so of re-opening.
Restrictions set forth by the governor for the reopening of salons, barbershops, and tattoo parlors, which remain in place, include operating at limited capacity, requiring staff and clients to wear masks, and not allowing walk-ins.
Bleu has followed those restrictions and has additional safety measures in place. Clients call from outside once they have arrived and undergo a COVID-19 screening before entering the salon. They are then asked to wash their hands with soapy water for 20 seconds. Clients and staff keep a distance of 6 feet between them, except during services. And the salon is operating at a 25 percent capacity.
After each client leaves, the space is “scrubbed from top to bottom,” Bozicevich said. “We sanitize every single surface,” including the pens and clipboards used during screenings.
The owners added an easily-cleaned bench at the entry for clients to wait, if necessary.
Unfortunately, Bozicevich said, patrons can’t sit in the colorful waiting area, outfitted with a comfy blue couch adorned with pop art Beatles pillows, and funky, bright pink chairs.
There are no magazines to thumb through.
Clients can’t peruse the wall of products, which includes the hair care lines of Lanza, Milk Shake (from Italy), and Loma; Reuzel beard products, and the all-natural Alex and Remy soaps. The salon also sells a yoga apparel line, Om and Ah, from London.
Like other salons in the state, however, Bleu has been allowed to offer curbside sales of products since May.
Salons and spas are supposed to be a place of pampering, Bozicevich noted. “COVID takes away from these experiences,” she said. “Wearing a mask is not comfortable.” But the salon is trying to make appointments as pleasant and luxurious as possible. It has even gained some customers who sought it out for its dedication to following guidelines, Bozicevich said.
COVID-19 has been a concern for personal care businesses, particularly after reports surfaced in May of two hair stylists at a Springfield, Mo., Great Clips salon testing positive for the virus and potentially exposing 139 clients.
On July 14, the CDC noted that none of the clients were known to have become infected with COVID-19, highlighting the fact that all of the clients and stylists wore facial coverings.
According to a statement from the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, the salon had safety precautions in place. Appointment times had been staggered to limit potential contamination between customers, the salon chairs were placed farther apart than usual, and stylists remained 6 feet away from clients when not cutting their hair.
Bozicevich said Bleu, which has three salon chairs, is slowly working to build a good crew of employees. Taylor is currently its only stylist, but the salon could safely add a second one, leaving the middle hair station vacant for as long as necessary during the pandemic.
The Bozicevich family began planning for the salon in December 2018. “I have a passion for spas,” and “wanted to work for myself,” said Taylor Bozicevich, who graduated from Minneapolis’ Aveda Institute in 2008, studied at Cosmetology Careers Unlimited in Duluth, and has furthered her education at the Minnesota Brow Lash Studio & Academy in Minneapolis
The cosmetologist, who has worked in the field for more than decade, including at two salons, is currently finishing an apprenticeship in microblading, a tattooing technique in which a small handheld tool made of several tiny needles is used to add semi-permanent pigment to the skin.
She returned to her hometown to open the business.
In addition to being a full-service hair salon, Bleu offers a full menu of spa services, with separate rooms in the very blue-themed salon dedicated to each, including massage, makeup, manicures and pedicures which are provided on high-end massage chairs, facials, waxing, eyelash extensions and eyebrow and lash tints and lifts.
The walls not painted blue — Taylor’s favorite color — are covered in vivid, patterned paper. The colorful theme was inspired by 1960s-70s music-related posters the family framed for the salon.
Barbara Bozicevich said she was, and still is, a hippie, and her daughter is a hippie wannabe.
The family did much of the renovations themselves, but also enlisted the help of local companies while updating the space, leased from the Patrini family.
“It’s been a huge venture for someone well into their 60s,” said Bozicevich, who is working as Bleu’s receptionist until one is found.
But the salon, which has monthly specials and a Facebook page and plans to hold future fundraisers to “give back,” has been a worthy endeavor — pandemic and all, she said.