Ugly Economy Can Mean Ugly Hair

As markets around the world take record losses, ramifications of the financial crisis are being felt from board rooms to beauty salons. At a shop in the Washington suburb of Silver Spring, Md., the chairs are empty and the stylists worried.

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From NPR News, it's Day to Day. Looking good doesn't always come cheap. That's why the beauty industry in this country is worth $60 billion. But all the current troubles in the economy are beginning to blemish the beauty business. NPR's Allison Keyes reports.

ALLISON KEYES: Jaha Hair Studios has bowls of complimentary fruit and power bars among the semi-circle of chairs in front of its shampoo bowls. But on this day, nearly every chair at the shop in the Washington suburb of Silver Spring, Maryland is empty. Owner Susan Peterkin-Bishop shakes her head as she talks about how the economic downturn is affecting her 12-year-old business.

Ms. SUSAN PETERKIN-BISHOP (Owner, Jaha Hair Studio): I've been able to really see it for the past three months.

KEYES: She says sales are down about $2,000 a week. That's a third of what the average salon brings in according to the National Cosmetology Association.

Ms. SHERELLE HOLDER (Hairstylist): It has been bad. Like a lot of customers who would come every two weeks, they're coming like maybe once a month - sometimes even a couple of months.

KEYES: Stylist Sherelle Holder says the slowdown is costing her money, and she is beginning to worry.

Ms. HOLDER: I have bills to pay also, and by them not coming that often, it's affecting me personally.

KEYES: She says that means cutting back elsewhere.

Ms. HOLDER: Yes, on everything, groceries, clothes, everything.

KEYES: Beauty shops across the country are in similar straits, says National Cosmetology Association Executive Director Gordon Miller. Miller represents 25,000 salon owners and professionals nationwide. And he says 70 percent report drops in their service sales.

Mr. GORDON MILLER (Executive Director, National Cosmetology Association): At the luxury level, it's a overall downward trend of six to 10 percent.

KEYES: Not so bad, right? Miller says mid-range shops are hurting, while bargain shops are finding some new customers. ..TEXT: Mr. MILLER: At the value-price level, more what you think of as your chain salons and definitely your lower-price hair cut services and limited chemical services, we're actually hearing a reported growth. And what we're seeing there is people trending down from the more moderate-price salon.

KEYES: He says worries over money have changed the topic of conversation in the chair at many salons. Aunt Doris and Hollywood are out. Wall Street is in.

Mr. MILLER: Family goes typically at the top of the list, family and friends and talking about their personal lives. And then popular culture would be second. And again, because the economy is so much in the news, and because, obviously, politics are in the news, in the short term, they seem to have kind of trumped the other two.

KEYES: The beauty industry is historically among the last to feel the worst effects of an economic downturn. Jaha customer Cheryl Lee, who says she's shopping less and even driving less, explains why.

Dr. CHERYL LEE (Dentist): You know, we're struggling, but I've still been able to somehow maintain that hair appointment.

KEYES: The dentist and mother of two says her weekly "me" time is worth it. Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.

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