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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Reopening During COVID-19: The Experience of Nail Salon Workers and Owners in California

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California is a major hub for the nail salon industry, with more than 100,000 licensed manicurists throughout the state. Most of the nail salons are small mom-and-pop businesses, and are primarily staffed by women and Vietnamese immigrants and refugees. Nail salons, in particular, were upended by COVID-19 and the shelter-in-place order of March 2020 that forced their closures for most of that year. Nail salons were allowed to reopen and then were forced to close again as cases surged, and finally reopened again in early 2021. This cycle of openings and closings took a tremendous emotional and financial strain on owners and workers alike. Although the industry is expected to bounce back, a new plethora of factors may affect the future of the industry. Drawing on a survey of 158 nail salon workers and 42 owners and interviews with 4 workers and 2 owners, this report provides insight into the economic and emotional impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on nail salons in California. The results shed light on the financial fragility of workers and owners alike, and the significant—yet distinct—impact on their livelihoods

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