Business & Real Estate

Salon pivots to stay alive amid pandemic

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Courtesy of Stephanie James
Shear Therapy owner Stephanie James has reimagined her business in response to the pandemic.

After being forced to close her salon for a third time during the pandemic, Shear Therapy owner Stephanie James has tweaked her business model to keep her downtown Los Altos shop afloat amid these challenging times.

Shear Therapy, located at 184 Plaza South, was once a four-chair hair salon, with James working two chairs and two other stylists renting the other two. However, due to financial problems caused by the pandemic and the departure of one of the stylists, James had to reimagine her salon in an attempt to survive as many small businesses have gone under.

Shear Therapy now operates as a one-chair salon with a corresponding boutique that sells items such as personal care products, jewelry and plants.

“I think that it was a great idea,” Los Altos resident and longtime customer Carolyn Holton said. “Stephanie is not only a great hairdresser, but she has a great sense of style. She has great taste. So for her to take her stylish sense and put it into a store that sells home goods made sense to me.”

According to James, having a retail space as part of Shear Therapy allowed her to continue making money while the government forced her salon to close. Under the county and state guidelines, salons had to close, but retail shops did not – a policy she called an “injustice.”

“I know about sanitation – that is primarily what they teach us in school,” James said. “We aren’t part of the issue that is causing the spread of the infection of the virus. It should be considered that we shouldn’t be closed down, lumped together with other industries that could be part of the problem.”

Holton sympathizes with James and others in the salon industry.

“I think that it’s been tough for them – more tough than other businesses,” Holton said. “Even though I think that salons, Stephanie’s in particular, have a lot of protocols for cleaning and distancing, I think it’s been a little unfair that they haven’t been able to open and do their business.”

James recalled the difficulties her business experienced during the months of the pandemic, such as the loss of income and customers, a rent increase and having to close three times.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this before and I’ve been doing hair for 30-plus years,” she said. “It’s pretty extreme that our government has not helped us. It’s pretty devastating. You know, I could lose my home – not just my business, I could lose my home.”

Despite the challenges, James hopes that her new business model will prove successful and plans on keeping the retail element after the pandemic is over, with a few modifications.

“I am in the business of people,” she said. “My business is about you guys, and making people feel good and look good, and that’s really what my business is about. That’s what I’ve been doing for my entire life.”
James added that it’s important to keep small businesses alive in Los Altos.

“I think that having these small businesses gives us variety that we never knew we had,” she said. “It shows us things that unless you’re looking for it online, potentially you would never know existed.”

Holton noted that “it brings a sense of community and friendship.”

James encouraged the community to shop local before going online.

“That’s why the small businesses are so hurt by it, because they’re just turning to Amazon,” she said.

James also stressed the need for small businesses to “be creative” and “keep swimming” to survive during the pandemic.

“I’m just hoping that these small businesses are learning from this – not discouraged from it, but learning from this,” she said. “How can we shift, how can we work together, how can we blend our businesses together to make it so that we’re working as a team?”

For more information on Shear Therapy, email James at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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