'Non-essential' businesses feel strain
Portales' Gallegos had to close salon
March 29, 2020
PORTALES - Diane Gallegos already had a full plate.
The Portales resident is a small-business owner and a single mother of two daughters, the younger of which has Down syndrome.
COVID-19 made the plate even fuller.
Gallegos has owned Making the Cut Hair Studio in Portales since 2017, and that business is among the many affected by the coronavirus. To help contain the virus' spread, on Monday afternoon Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a stay-at-home order for New Mexico, which took effect Tuesday morning and runs until April 10. Essential businesses were excluded from having to shut down, but the ones not deemed essential had to close temporarily.
Gallegos' business, like so many others throughout the state, was not on the essential list.
"(The order) totally made us close all hair salons," Gallegos said.
Salon businesses that are non-essential to life are indeed essential to salon owners like Gallegos. Even before the order she felt the pandemic's impact, with canceled appointments and fewer walk-ins, a growing business that had slowed to a crawl.
"There goes my savings to pay my rent here, and to buy groceries," Gallegos said. "It's going to hurt."
The stimulus package Congress was working on mid-week will hopefully help. President Donald Trump has said the package's expanded unemployment benefits would include those who are self-employed.
Still, it's been a jarring turn of events.
Before the shutdown, other things besides her number of customers had changed for Gallegos, with a business that relies on standing way closer than six feet from people's heads. Social distancing doesn't mix well with hair cutting, styling and dyeing; no one's arms are that long.
Gallegos was already wearing rubber gloves, and had protective masks on order. And though normally welcoming of walk-ins, stated in big letters on a sign out front facing Portales' Avenue C, Gallegos was wary of them once the virus became a pandemic.
"It's kind of scary when you take anybody off the street like that," she said. "Because you don't know where they've been, if they're coming from Albuquerque or Santa Fe and they've been infected by somebody there. You just don't know."
To that point, perhaps the shutdown is a good thing for Gallegos, despite the loss of revenue.
Infection is a concern for everyone, especially certain groups. It is now common to see and hear on television how people over 65 are at higher risk if they contract the virus. Cancer patients are at higher risk. Anyone with other pre-existing conditions has to be especially careful.
What about Gallegos' 11-year-old daughter Justine and her Down syndrome?
"She's not at high risk because she's very healthy," Gallegos said. "But I am more careful; I am always cleaning and I have my Lysol bottles all over the house and here at the salon. I clean up after every client, and my house is very clean.
"The one that really concerns me," Gallegos added, "is my older daughter. She works at Walmart and Sonic. Those are very busy places."
Gallegos' oldest is Kristen, 21, a nursing student at Eastern New Mexico University, which is currently on hiatus due to the virus. Gallegos is extra careful when Kristen is around, spraying her shoes with disinfectant. Sometimes, Justine helps out with that.
"She's like, 'Kristen's home,'" Gallegos said. "And she'll spray the Lysol."
Gallegos hopes the pandemic will end soon. In the meantime she will keep taking care of her family, the extended part of which includes a menagerie of horses, goats, a dog and a cat.
And Gallegos will draw courage from part of her human family - Aunt Maggie, a 90-something who looks 75 and acts 25. Maggie does secretarial work at an Amarillo funeral home and has continued going to her job during the COVID-19 scare.
"She's not worried about the virus at all," Gallegos said. "She says that this has happened before."
For Maggie, being careful was already part of her routine. "She's a very clean lady," Gallegos noted. "She's always washing her hands."
Maybe everyone can draw courage from Aunt Maggie - be careful but not afraid.
Gallegos is practicing both. That doesn't mean, however, that she isn't saddened by what the coronavirus has done to her business and our way of life. Recently, Gallegos recalled, she had to come into the salon to water her plants. It was quiet, the phone wasn't ringing like it used to. Gallegos had her plants for company, but things just weren't the same.
"You don't know what you've got," she said, "until it's gone."