Dorothy Wilk came to this country from Poland to visit her brother in 1986 with no plans to stay. Instead she fell in love, got married, secured a beautician’s license, and eventually became an American citizen. “I was thinking maybe one year. There was nothing set in stone.” Training for seven years under cosmetologist Valerie Vasian, she purchased the salon from her mentor in 1994. It then evolved from simply manicure, pedicure, and waxing, to a full service establishment with a tenaciously loyal clientele some of which extends four generations.
The salon shut down Friday March 20 after servicing a client visiting from Switzerland who begged to be fit in. “The city was getting very quiet. Two banks in the neighborhood had closed.” Dorothy’s reopened on July 8. I inquire whether all her employees returned. “Everyone. We were in touch the whole time, supporting one another, expressing fears and worries. It’s a family here. There was no question we were coming back.”
“How does a business learn government standards?” I ask. Instructions on legal requirements to make the spa safe are posted online, not just at the CDC web site, but also The New York State Government Forward. Here, one types in a specialty code and is shown a comprehensive list of prerequisites. In order to reopen, it’s necessary to acquire a certificate acknowledging awareness of regulations. The state confirms online. “I feel like Cuomo’s taking care of the city and state. He’s strict, diligent.”
“I decided I had to impress the clients, to show them what I would expect someone else to do for me. It was time to change the furniture anyway. I researched manicure venues all over, went on salon web sites to find new tables and chairs, then visited showrooms and bought everything new. There were a lot of very disappointing places.”
Attractive new tables have a vacuum set into the top with replaceable filters. A plexiglas wall separates aesthetician from client. Hands are placed through a large cut-out at the bottom. As there was nothing analogous for pedicures, Dorothy’s husband built custom screens in the garage. (They look professionally made.) These shield someone from the hips up. “You have to be creative in situations like this, necessity pushes you.” Chairs are no longer covered in fabric, which is porous, and are additionally lined with disposable paper.
Every other table was removed to work at less than 50 percent capacity. The spacious salon could fit additional stations, but it’s more important to the proprietress that clients feel safe and relaxed, so they might “take a break from reality.”
I inquire about difficulties in stocking supplies. Wilk got in her car and visited resources she’s used for years hoping to get ahead of things before reopening. “This is new for America. I came from Communism. I remember empty shelves, no produce in stores, not being able to get shoes for the winter. It’s difficult for people here to imagine that.”
“What about sanitary measures?” I ask. Temperatures are taken at the door. Everyone from employees to clients to delivery people are asked to wash their hands upon entering. Practitioners are queried about exposure and any possible symptoms. The spa keeps a daily record. Stations are wiped down with medical grade sanitizer. Disposable shields are utilized during waxing. There are no drinks, no magazines.
The carpet is regularly steamed. Tools – emery boards and orange sticks – arrive at tables in sealed packages. These are then discarded or given to the client. Metal implements are sterilized in a medical grade autoclave. Wilk goes to the extreme of eschewing traditional soaking bowls in the smallest chance of spreading germs. On top of all this, portable, high efficiency UV air cleaners are utilized to enhance the quality of ventilation. So far no inspectors have visited, but the spa is eminently ready.
The salon resumed with manicures, pedicures, and waxing, laser removal of hair and brown spots, eyebrow shaping, body wraps, and exfoliation – anything that doesn’t require the removal of a face mask. Highly requested endermologie treatments (electronic massage that stimulates the lymphatic system, erasing inches – not pounds, getting rid of toxins) is applied through a bodysuit. The practice is extremely hygienic. Go-ahead for facials was recently received with the caveat that a cosmetologist must be tested for the virus in addition to wearing a shield and mask.
“Are clients returning?” “Slowly, yes, especially now that schools are struggling to reopen.” Salons naturally look for ways to facilitate business, acquire new clients. “This year, we’ve been in the Hamptons in people’s homes.” Wilk’s husband ferries manicurists out to Long Island. “I have clients now I’ve never met, friends of regulars who come through recommendation. It’s something to keep going until we’re very busy again.” People with underlying conditions are serviced at home in the city.
Another continuing option is spa parties for children, friends, or professional groups. “A woman reached out to me to do a party for doctors who work so hard and never make time for themselves. It was a brand new group. Then she repeated it several times. We stayed late for them. It was a big surprise.” Dorothy’s also sells carefully selected, natural products.
Wilk is hopeful for the future. “This is one of many obstacles we have and will have in life. I feel sooner than later, it will become history. Staying positive is really important. Keep busy, don’t worry too much about tomorrow. Be there for each other.”
These are the parameters on which we need to base choice of salons and services. It’s a tough road for all sides, but rigorous attention helps pave the way for normalcy. And there’s nothing like being taken care of when one is stressed.
All unattributed quotes Dorothy Wilk
Photos by Ms. Wilk
Dorothy’s Day Spa
125 East 90th Street