Beauty parlors struggle while other businesses see recovery from Covid

By Parveen Chopra


Hicksville, NY: Four South Asian beauty parlors in Hicksville have closed, and one has been for sale for a year with no takers. Some other salons are also not hopeful of recovery after Covid trimmed their business and thinned their margins. Even as most other stores in the Little India part of this Long Island town are seeing a modicum of normalcy, the beauty salon business is defying the trend.

What pushed these small businesses, most of them run and serviced by women, to the brink? Because physical contact with the client cannot be avoided in this trade, the fear of catching Covid kept many people away long after the shutdowns ended. Necessity inspired many women to learn to take care of their routine beauty needs, like facial hair removal, at home using materials and devices purchased online.

Rehana Siddiqui is not sure how long she can keep her Nikhar Beauty Salon running, insisting that she has lost more than half of her clientele. “Women have learned to do eyebrows and hair color, even blow-dry, at home. For haircut and waxing, now they wait up to six months compared to 3-4 months earlier,” she says.

Yadvinder Singh Dhillon, who manages Rita Beauty Parlor named after his cosmetologist wife, adds other reasons for the business going south. “The prices of products we use have doubled or tripled because of inflation and supply chain problems. But we cannot jack up our rates knowing that inflation has eroded discretionary spending in our community.”

Dhillon, who moved his salon five years ago from Flushing, NY, wonders why so many desi parlors decided to locate along South Broadway. On a one-mile stretch lined by shops and restaurants owned by Indian- and Pakistani-Americans, you notice these sign boards one after the other: Singhar Beauty Salon, Nikhar, Rita Beauty Parlor, Neelu’s Khubsoorat Beauty Salon, Mehak Beauty Salon, and Aaina Beauty Salon. Further down are Newlooksalon Spa, Habib’s Hair & Beauty Salon, Pink Me Up, Tamanaa, and Nina’s Herbal Salon.

Lux, Karizma, and a couple of others could not survive in this crowded market and have closed. The makeup school of Raani Roddey near the Sikh temple is boarded up as a sign of decreasing demand for beauticians.

Dhillon and Rehana admit that the federal Paycheck Protection Program came in handy, but it only helped tide over the worst period. Rehana had a couple of women work for her earlier, but not anymore. Santoshi Subedi, a native of Nepal, left her to work for a Vietnamese-owned nail and beauty spa in Broadway Mall. “People are not going out as often as before and work-from-home has further affected our business,” Santoshi said.

What happens to the retrenched workers? Some have left New York altogether, moving to North Carolina or Texas, where the cost of living is low.

Others, however, do not share this doom and gloom. They have adapted to the changing environment with foresight and focus.

Rehana’s and (right) Rita Dhillon’s salons in Hicksville have been hit by Covid’s aftereffects.

Nina Lamba, the first and only franchisee in the US of Shahnaz Husain, an Indian legend in the herbal beauty business, states, “After the Covid bump, we are more or less back to normal.” To instill confidence in his clients when they reopened after the Covid shutdown, she recalls, “We added safety and sanitation measures. We continue to use disposables. We insist on providing good service, never cutting corners.” Her spacious Nina Herbal Spa displaying Buddha images in Kundan Mall has a soothing ambiance. They have four full-time and part-time employees.

Nina manages another location in Commack in Suffolk County assisted by her daughter Evani.  Specialized hair and facial treatments with protein masks are more in demand at her salon which attracts about 40% non-desi clients. Bridal makeup in the wedding season – the temperate months of April to October — brings her additional business.

Sherry Dutta acquired a beauty salon last year in Fresh Meadows, Queens, and she does not regret it. “The initial few months were hard, but now we are doing fine. I believed in myself and was confident of my talent in hairstyling and skin treatments, which remain necessities for women.” She has three workers on call for busy days. She argues that the despairing parlor owners may have depended too much on threading. True, this South Asian specialty is a low earner, but threading helped them enter the salon business.

Yet, there continue to be signs of Covid’s toll on small businesses. For example, a dry cleaner near Delco Plaza in Hicksville doing a brisk business with a flat $2.99 for a dress shirt or trousers fell victim recently to the work-from-home trend accelerated by the pandemic.

Unlike beauty salons, some other businesses are not complaining. C.M. Patel, manager of the Hicksville location of the Patel Brothers chain, says that grocery store owners actually made money thanks to the feds’ PPP largesse. “Besides, our sales during Covid years went up not down because shortages prompted people to hoard,” he adds.

Rajesh Kumar, of Bengali Sweet Shop, credits his smart business strategies for surviving and thriving in the changing environment.  “On reopening after the Covid shutdown, we introduced curbside pick-up and online ordering through Uber Eats and Doordash. Now with high prices of commodities like flour and milk products, and rising worker wages, we calibrate what to put on the menu and not raise rates too high to keep our customers.”

Raani Roddey’s makeup school near the gurdwara is boarded up as a sign of decreasing demand for beauticians.

The president of the Hicksville Chamber of Commerce, Charles Razenson, who has his own embroidery business, is optimistic. “Yes, Covid slowed down business, but as people start going about their lives again, it is getting back to the pre-2020 level, for South Asians too.”

Threading helped South Asians enter the beauty salon business 

While South Asians have not tried to infringe on Asian domination in nail work, they have retained their monopoly in threading. All accounts point to this art having been developed in the Indian subcontinent a long time ago.

Threading is an alternative to waxing to remove unwanted body hair. The technique literally uses a cotton thread, which is twisted in knots to pluck out hair from the roots. It is used on the chin, upper lip, and forehead, but is most suited for eyebrow shaping. The service is over in a matter of minutes and costs as little as five to six dollars. It is even considered more hygienic than waxing as the used thread is discarded.

There is no consensus on which is more painful: threading or waxing? It ultimately depends on the dexterity and experience of the service provider. For bikini, arms and legs, of course, waxing is the only option.

South Asian parlors first found a footing in America with threading 20-30 years ago. It is easy to teach in a few classes and you don’t need a license to offer it.

Henna painting is another exclusive South Asian art. Around festivals such as Eid and Diwali, you find women of all ages lining up for henna (known as mehndi) patterns on their hands. Mehndi is virtually mandatory for Hindu women observing the Karva Chauth fast for the well-being of their husbands. Brides and bridesmaids flaunt elaborate mehndi patterns on their hands and forearms, feet and ankles at the Big Fat South Asian wedding ceremonies.

This story was produced as part of the Small Business Reporting Fellowship, organized by the Center for Community Media and funded by the NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment.


Parveen Chopra

Founding Editor of The South Asian Times, Parveen Chopra recently launched, a wellness and spirituality web magazine. He can be contacted at [email protected]



Images courtesy of Images Provided and Image Provided

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