While most twenty-year-old are doing keg stands in their respective college campus, Hannah Mills took a huge gamble and became a business owner. Straight out of both high school and beauty school, she started working at the Hustle & Blow salon.

“This is the only place I've ever worked. So, I've never known any other salon,” Mills said. “The previous owner was like a mother figure to me. She had a lot of faith in me and asked me if I felt inclined to own and run the salon as she was making changes in her professional life. I guess you can't pass up on something that you love just as much as your career, and I was in love with the salon and the people. If you would ask me even a year ago, I wouldn't have told you I'd be in this position but here I was 20-years-old and the owner of a salon.”

Women entrepreneurs often face both overt and subtle gender discrimination. For instance, small-business loans for women-owned businesses dropped 70 percent between 2007 and 2013. In 2018, the average size loan for women-owned businesses was 31% less than the average size loan for male-owned businesses, according to online credit marketplace Biz2Credit.

Add in a pandemic where every business had to close its doors and now you have a very confused young female professional who employs six stylists as well as receptionists.

“We closed our doors on Friday, March 20th,” she said. “We lost about $6,000 just for the end of the month of March. That was just for the end. We are now in May. We missed on the expected sales and work from senior proms, graduations, and so many weddings that were already booked. What I mean by that is that we probably won't recover until 2021 if we are lucky.”

“The way many salons function is by renting chairs and the spaces to stylists. I couldn’t in good conscience make out of work stylists pay for a chair that is empty. I covered the cost of that. But that is not enough. My stylists are not being paid and many of them were not receiving their unemployment benefits being that unemployment offices are overwhelmed with requests. It's an overwhelming responsibility. I felt incredible responsible for their livelihoods.”

Most heard about the Dallas hair salon owner who was jailed for defying lockdown, but Mills and her crew waited for the green light to open up its salon doors. On Friday, April 24, Hustle & Blow re-opened their doors.

“When I found out the state gave us the OK to open back up, we held a Zoom call with the staff,” Mills said. “I called everyone individually first and then did a Zoom call, and everyone seemed on board. I gave them the choice. I never forced anyone to come back. I had to make sure that if they don't feel comfortable working they did not have to. I made sure to give the option and to never force anyone to work. Surprisingly, most were able and ready to come back.”

As soon as Gov. Brian Kemp gave the orders for reopening, Mills’ phone began to ring with clients that normally, like clockwork, flock to her salon for their monthly hair trim or new roots touch up. When Mills sent out the news that April 24 would be the first day back in business, it was not met with all positive feedback.

“We had clients as far as Virginia looking for services,” she said. “We had clients from Florida, and we were ready. We also got some heat wondering why we were so quick to open. But we waited for our government leadership to say it was okay. I had all the supplies that we needed such as disinfectants, thermometers, masks and gloves. Emails claiming my return to work is idiotic, I pretty much ignored.”

“I think a lot of people don't understand this. This is probably one of the safer places you could be. I mean our hands are in water 50% of the time or in chemicals. But we really had to go back to work. I mean we all have to survive.”

“A client that needs our services have to follow procedures and it is not an easy task for us giving the service or the client,” she added. “The State Board of Cosmetology came out and said, these are actually things you have to do. So, when the client comes, they must wait in their car. They check-in with our system that alerts us that the client is here for the appointment. We'll grab our thermometer, walk outside, take your temperature, ask them to come inside. The client must wash their hands in the restroom and then they may have a seat. The client must come prepared with their mask on. Meanwhile, we sanitize our station, get everything ready to go. We disinfect everything. Wash our hands, and with gloves on, we greet them and start our service. I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to wear gloves for everything. The process of cutting hair, blow drying hair is a hard task. So, imagine trying to feel the hair texture when wet while wearing gloves, it is very difficult. But we do it. Because it’s our job and what feeds our families.”

We asked the staff how the pandemic has affected them and how they plan to move forward:

Jessica Ferrera, Makeup artist/receptionist: “The pandemic and closing has affected me on different levels. I take into consideration that I do not have health insurance; I have family members who are high risk, and I still have bills to pay, of course. It’s helpful that the team here is supportive of one another so we don’t feel so alone in this battle! While I can’t provide makeup services due to the pandemic, I can offer support for my fellow coworkers and other people in the community who are working still.”

Rachel Yocco, stylist/wedding coordinator: “I’ve tried to keep positive through it all. I chose to spend the time away from the salon to reflect and better myself, so that when it came time to head back to work, I would return with a refreshed attitude! Of course, being the wedding coordinator, there were tons of changes and rescheduling, but overall, we worked through it to the best of our abilities. I’m thankful to be back doing what I love (safer than ever!)“

Sarah Lord, stylist: “I always knew I loved my job, but being forced not to do it for an extended period of time proved to be a great challenge. While I can’t deny I enjoyed the slow down and a chance to rest and rejuvenate, I had to work differently: thinking of ways to stay engaged with clients, putting myself out on social media platforms like never before, utilizing e-commerce portals for product and retail sales. I mean hello beauty industry in 2020. Our industry is ever changing, and to have success and longevity you have to be innovative and resilient so the way I see it we’ve been conditioned for this comeback.”

Mary McCormick, receptionist: “The pandemic and the closure was initially stressful due to me being ’high risk’ and surviving paycheck to paycheck, but as time went on, I gained a new appreciation for my team and clients; seeing us all come together although we can’t all be together. Moving forward, I will continue to follow health guidelines and remain at home given my health status but I’m counting the days until I can be back with my team.“

Taylor Deery, stylist: “The pandemic has affected me financially with not being able to work for a while. It’s really put a setback on my future plans. I also felt like I was going a bit crazy not having social interactions with people. I’m just taking life day-by-day. It’s definitely a weird time for everyone and I’m just trying my best to remain healthy and safe. We are all taking necessary precautions to be able to work in the safest environment.”

Gray Armstrong, stylist: “The effects from the pandemic has been an extreme challenge financially. Here at Hustle and Blow and many other businesses. Not qualifying for any financial assistance during this time has been very difficult as well. Many in our industry have been forced to close their doors permanently. I’m thankful for a salon owner with such a big heart and diligent mind! Moving forward has been challenging as well (for the salon). One client at a time for a stylist, such as myself, is deemed impossible. Double booking has been my way of working for the last 20 years. But I’m just glad to be at work! We have certainly executed the proper sanitation practices set forth by the CDC guidelines. It takes extra time, but definitely worth it. We at Hustle take pride in our already clean salon. So, taking those extra steps to ensure everyone’s safety is well worth the time.”