When Shakopee resident Patty Kutina opened her hair salon two years ago, she was fulfilling a dream to own and operate her own business. With more than three decades of experience as a stylist and manager, she was thrilled to make the leap to small business owner with Sola Salon Studios in Eden Prairie.
The journey to owning her own business started more than 10 years ago. She was working at a large national chain, general managing multiple stores and more than 20 stylists, when the recession in 2009 resulted in her losing her job.
“It was devastating, but the worst thing that happened to me turned out to be the best thing because I went to a rental salon,” Kutina told me when we talked last week. “I took most of my clients with me and it was a good experience. It let me have weekends off and have a schedule that let me see my kids’ activities. They were just getting into traveling basketball at that time.”
The drawback to the salon was that she was limited to working three days a week because she shared her space with another stylist. When she opened her own salon, she had the freedom to set her own schedule. She now shares a building with more than 30 professionals who offer a range of services, including massage, nails, skin care, and hair care.
Everything changed when the government mandated a shutdown due to the coronavirus. Kutina and everyone in her industry was suddenly out of work.
“It was Tuesday, March 17. I had worked 8 to 5. That night, I got an email from the State Board of Cosmetology that we had to shut down,” she said. “We have no paid vacation and no paid holidays. My income just completely stopped. It’s a super devastating, eye opening, surreal feeling.”
When she filed for unemployment, she was stunned to learn that business owners and sole proprietors were not eligible for benefits.
“I waited an hour and 45 minutes on the phone to talk with someone at the unemployment office who said we didn’t qualify,” Kutina said. Clarifying language in the federal stimulus bill should make her, and others in her situation, eligible for unemployment checks. “I filled out all the forms and I’m now in the queue.”
At this time, her application has still not been approved, so she has not collected any benefits. Fortunately for Kutina, the Sola franchise owners are not charging rent during the shutdown.
Like countless others, she’s in a state of limbo, wondering when she will be able to reopen and how she will navigate unemployment. Many of her clients have reached out to let her know they’re thinking of her, which brightens her day.
“I’ve had offers to come to clients’ homes to cut their hair and they’ll pay me triple, but it was very clear from the Board of Cosmetology that we could be fined $1,000 and/or lose our license if we do that,” Kutina said. “That’s not a risk I’m willing to take, but I really do appreciate that people are trying to help.”
While she doesn’t have the coronavirus, she was concerned because she had been in contact with so many people prior to the shutdown.
“In the days leading up to March 17, I had probably been in contact with 300 people,” Kutina said. “I would not be able to live with myself if I infected someone by going to their home to cut their hair.”
She’s in a group chat with others from Sola. Their happiest conversations are when they’re sharing stories of clients sending them cards, emails, or messages.
“I have clients checking in with me out of the goodness of their hearts. It brings a case of humanity to the passion I have for my industry. I love my clients. I know them, their families, and sometimes their grandkids,” Kutina said. “It makes me emotional. I see some of my clients once a month, which is more than I see my own brothers and sister. That’s why I hold my clients so close to my heart.”
While a lot of clients are worrying about her, she’s worrying about them.
“I feel bad because for many people, getting their hair done is mentally uplifting, and we could all use that,” she said. “I wish I could give that to people right now.”