For 50 years, Cadiz hairdresser Polly Meyer has cut and styled her clients’ hair in salons around Hopkinsville.

Since Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear issued his order to close salons across the state on March 18 due to COVID-19, Meyer may face an unplanned extended period without work for the first time in her career.

“I’ve never seen anything like this and nobody else has either,” she said.

As an independent contractor at the new Southern Roots Salon on West 15th Street, Meyer still has expenses, including rent for her booth at the salon, even though the doors are closed.

“We are independent contractors so I have a contract there with Whitney (Aldridge) for six months, whether we work or whether we don’t,” she said.

Until Wednesday, Meyer was not eligible to file for unemployment to help pay her bills.

In response to the emergence of COVID-19, Beshear signed an order Wednesday expanding unemployment eligibility immediately to individuals typically not covered by unemployment insurance, including self-employed, independent contractors, freelance workers, substitute teachers, child care workers employed by religious affiliated organizations and nonprofits.

Individuals who left their job for “good cause” because of reasonable risk of exposure (self-quarantine) or due to caring for a family member affected by the virus are also eligible to file a claim at kcc.ky.gov.

“I think it would give us great peace of mind that we can continue in the way we have been used to — — the lifestyle that we’ve been used to,” Meyer said.

Southern Roots Salon was only open for two days when the governor enacted the temporary closure. Aldridge, who owns the shop, said the statewide closure was shocking and disappointing for her and her clients, but she understands the need for safety.

“I received 87 text messages within a 30-minute timeframe of people panicking,” she said of her clients. “I opened and closed the salon in one week. That was not in my plan, so we’re winging it.”

With three kids to support and her husband Shane laid off from his factory job, Aldridge said being able to file for unemployment gives her more peace of mind.

“If we can’t work, our jobs have been shut down, but our bills have not,” she said. “Having a little bit of a cushion I think will be very helpful. It’s definitely a godsend.”

Daphne Shivar, a stylist at The Hair Studio on South Virginia Street, has been an independent contractor for 22 years.

Although she supports Beshear’s decision to close salons, so far she has had to postpone between 40 to 50 clients’ appointments.

“We never thought we would need unemployment,” she said. “We’re hairdressers ... It’s something in our field that’s not common because we can always get a job. Our philosophy has always been that people need their hair cut.”

While she is facing some tough budgeting decisions for her family, Stiver said she is appreciative of the governor’s unemployment eligibility expansion.

“It is very stressful to worry about paying the mortgage and utility bills,” she said. “It takes a lot of that stress off because you know you have money coming in. Right now we don’t know when we’re going back to work. … This could go on for months.”

According to the Kentucky Board of Cosmetology, there are approximately 35,000 individual licenses in cosmetology, nail technicians and estheticians in the Commonwealth.

Julie M. Campbell, board administrator for the Kentucky Board of Cosmetology in Frankfort, said the governor’s actions to allow independent contractors to gain unemployment is important to preserve the state’s economy.

“As a profession with a large number of contractors and a high ratio of single parents, this is vital to the continued economic strength of Kentucky and the nation as a whole,” she said.

While local stylists wait to go back to work, Aldridge encourages clients to buy gift certificates from their stylists or salons.

“That way your hairdresser has the money for it now, and she’ll be happy to get you on her schedule then,” she said.

When her shop reopens, Aldridge said they will continue to maintain a sanitary environment for the stylists and the clients.

Evenso, Meyer, who is 68 and in the high-risk group for COVID-19, said she’s considering wearing gloves and a mask — — at least temporarily — — when she returns to work, for her safety as well as her clients.

“Pray for all of us hairdressers,” Meyer said. “And, get on that waiting list … so when we do get back to work, we have a full schedule.”

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