Rose Laure Agbazan had just completed renovations to her spa, Sugaring Beauty Boudoir in downtown Squamish, when the pandemic restrictions were put in place in B.C.
Like other spas in town, she was forced to close for two and a half months.
"I had just expanded my business last year and I was thinking, 'Maybe this is going to be a good year... and then COVID hit," she said.
Agbazan moved to Squamish from Whistler four years ago. She was raised in France and spent about a decade in Paris before moving to Canada almost five years ago.
She left France for a change, after visiting Canada previously, and because it is easier to run a business here compared to in Paris, she said.
She has owned her shop, which offers African-influenced services, for almost three years.
"Not only North African — usually, a lot of spas use North African concepts to make the spa — but I wanted to use all the continent," she said.
The interior of the spa is terracotta and orange and she plays African musicians during treatments.
"From North African singers to Senegal to Mali, or South Africa," she said, adding her customers often have never heard the artists and want to learn more about them.
She offers services common in Africa and products from the continent including sugaring waving, which is traditional waxing from Morocco using a concoction of sugar, lemon, and honey that she makes herself.
She offers African massage, which she was trained in while living in France, and uses homemade stones from Africa for the 75-minute treatment.
Again, the music helps set the atmosphere "with really intense music‚ drums," she added.
Agbazan also uses a South African shellac for nails and other North African and Moroccan products.
Her uniform, too, is made from traditional African fabric.
She said it is harder to get such products in Canada, compared to in France, where there is a much wider selection of products from various countries.
When COVID-19 started to sweep through Europe, Agbazan — like many in Squamish — was watching, but not thinking it would impact businesses here.
She was talking to a friend who owns a shop in Paris who had suggested Agbazan may have to close her doors, too.
"I thought, 'oh no! I am not,'" she said, with a laugh.
Almost three months later, she reopened her doors in the beginning of June, with COVID-19 protocols in place — and customers are returning.
One employee did not return, however, due to pandemic concerns, so she is hiring, she added.
But so far, things have been really positive for her business, she said.
"It is really busy and a lot of people were really happy to see me open," she said. "It was really good to have all this support. I was a little worried before because I was thinking maybe I wouldn't be so busy because people maybe are not going to have so much money... it was really a surprise to be so busy after the shutdown."
According to Alain Audet, executive director of Allied Beauty Association, which is a non-profit organization that represents the professional beauty industry across Canada, there is a portion — though not a sizable one — of spas and salons that have not weathered the COVID-19 storm.
For some spas, finances were tight to start with, and then they couldn't come to an agreement with a landlord and so were stuck paying their bills through shutdowns, he said.
Others did not qualify during the first round of the federal government relief program.
"Some of the people got in trouble very, very quickly because cash flow was so tight," he said.
For others, the fact shutdowns dragged on, depleted their resources.
Of the spas that are reopening, the lower capacity of clients they can see in a day and the increased cost of operating due to pandemic precautions are weighing on shop owners he said.
Many shops already used masks during nail procedures, for example, but they didn't use as many masks and the cost of them was lower before COVID.
"Masks, for example, are four times the price as they were before COVID," Audet said, adding this is a hit for an industry that doesn't typically have large profit margins to begin with.
The positive thing for most of the aesthetic services is that the clients who bring in the most money with "high ticket services" are the first ones who have come back, he said.
"The first month, the revenue per client is actually quite high so it helps patch things up," he said.
The question most spa owners are pondering is if clients are now going to be spacing out their services.
"People who get their nails done every two weeks, are they going to be now spacing that out and adding an extra week or two or three? Over a three-to-six-month period, if you lose more than two appointments per client, then suddenly there might be gaps in the schedule running into the second month of operation. That is the thing we don't know."
Some owners have added a "COVID fee" to pass on some of the extra costs to the customers, but it is yet to be seen how that may impact revenues, he said.
"People will respond with their wallets at some point," he said, noting that other industries are having to also raise prices so that leads to an uncertainty about what the future will hold long-term.
There's also the question of the illegal underground market for services that has sprouted up and if clients will return to professional salons or stay underground.
But for now, he said what he is hearing is most clients are thrilled to be back at their spa for some self-care they were missing out on during the shutdowns.