Small Biz Saturday: Ann Arbor salon zoey + joey anticipating “touch-and-go” future

The salon is at 2139 West Stadium Blvd. in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Synecdoche Design Studio)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – In 2012, Ilze Meija-Ham opened zoey + joey when she couldn’t find a salon for her children, now she’s trying to anticipate how and when she will be able to reopen.

Located on West Stadium Blvd, the children’s hair studio usually does between 1,500 and 2,000 hair cuts a month but Meija-Ham expects a 50% cut in sales if she is allowed to reopen.

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, Meija-Ham said zoey + joey clients were willing to drive from up to an hour away to have their children work with her stylists.

Over the years, the salon and boutique has also built up a reputation for working with children with special needs, which Meija-Ham attributes to the kindness, skills and patience of her stylists.

“They could be working in a regular hair salon, but instead, they chose to work at zoey + joey.” Meija-Ham said that not only are her stylists kind, but they are also incredibly skilled at working with children, “and that’s a very hard combination to find.”

While zoey + joey is known as an Ann Arbor children’s salon, the small business serves the whole family. Customers are familiar with the colorful Volkwagon buses used on the children’s side of the business but the salon has a separate section for teenagers and adults.

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Owner Ilze Meija-Ham said that clients drive from up an hour away in order to visit the Ann Arbor salon. (Ilze Meija-Ham)

If she can reopen zoey + joey, Meija-Ham said that things will be “touch-and-go.” She anticipates barely being able to make ends meet after paying her overhead costs and her stylists.

Meija-Ham said that some people don’t realize how difficult it is to be a small business owner (even when there isn’t a pandemic). While she may have a very popular salon, there will be months where she doesn’t pay herself in order to make sure that all of her employees and bills are paid.

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“But when we do reopen, things will be very tight and even more difficult than usual. I’m not going to be able to include myself in the payroll for many months,” Meija-Ham said.

Nevertheless, she is trying to plan for the changes that will have to be made to zoey + joey. In anticipation of social distancing, Meija-Ham has removed a wooden slide and has taken out half of her salon chairs. She usually has nine chairs with six stylists working simultaneously. If she can reopen, she’ll only have 4 to 5 chairs.

In order to anticipate future social distancing needs, the salon has removed some toys and a large wooden slide. (Ilze Meija-Ham)

Currently, there aren’t guidelines in Michigan on how salons and barbershops will need to adapt in order to reopen. Meija-Ham has been following what other states have implemented but has faced another problem. Her suppliers don’t have the supplies she’s legally required to have on hand, like 70% rubbing alcohol.

“So number one, we’re guessing at what it’s [the future] going to look like and number two, we’re trying to order stuff that you can’t even order. I’m going to crazy measures to try to order the supplies that I’m going to need to be able to open,” Meija-Ham said.

She’ll also face staffing challenges. Many of her 10 employees have children but with summer camps and in-person schools closed their availability has dramatically reduced.

If she can’t reopen by early June, she may not be able to reopen at all and suspects that many other hair salons across Michigan face a similar situation.

The salon services children, teens and adults. (Ilze Meija-Ham)

About the Author:

Sarah has worked for WDIV since June 2018. She covers community events, good eats and small businesses in Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics from Grand Valley State University.