By Pati Navalta
Gari James Cuevas and Christopher Gaither are no strangers to high-end beauty in Union Square. More than 25 years ago, each began their careers at Sherlee Rhine’s 77 Maiden Lane Salon and Joseph Cozza Salon, two of the largest and most posh salons in San Francisco at the time. These early years of coiffing the well-heeled paid off when they opened Archer Salon in Union Square eight years ago.
Together, they built a high-end white-glove service salon for San Francisco’s elite, focused on top quality hair products, masterful color and unparalleled service. Their most popular services: Balayage, baby-lights (foils), tints, glosses and corrections—all of which are color-related, and all of which secured them loyal customers with standing appointments. In fact, they had built such a reputation for themselves that their list of notable repeat customers required discretion.
But like all businesses, the pandemic forced them to change everything. “The pandemic has hit our industry quite hard in San Francisco,” says Cuevas. “My knee-jerk reaction was to implement a massive sanitation of the salon and close it up tight. I then moved the color dispensary to my home and quickly developed our own hair color ordering system where clients were able to order their personalized grey coverage formulas from us directly online.”
This pivot proved to be quite popular with customers who could no longer access the salon’s services. Cuevas produced a how-to video to go along with the color kits and posted them throughout the salon’s social media accounts. The partners then created a dedicated online store with products and packaging from Cuevas’s dining room. “In the beginning I was so busy just fulfilling orders and making daily runs to the post office,” he says. “I also immediately generated digital gift certificates that clients could purchase for future appointments. I also got to begin a video diary for Good Morning America chronicling my efforts.”
In anticipation for their reopening, Cuevas and Gaither reimagined the salon set-up and how services would be carried out. Regular customers can expect to see these changes when they return to Archer, which reopened on Sept. 14. In addition to purchasing thousands of dollars worth of protective gear for staff and customers, Cuevas says they’ve installed a UV light sanitation system that goes on at night on a timer system. Among the other safety measures: fewer chairs and shampoo bowls so that social distancing is not 6 feet but about 12 to 15 feet between stations. “I then created a Health-Comfort-Service page for our website to immediately inform our clients on what we have in place,” says Cuevas. “It goes above and beyond CDC and San Francisco county guidelines. The point is we want to welcome back our clients to an above-and-beyond level of safety, which also keeps with our white-glove service. We wanted to be known as that salon that feels safest in the city.”
For now, staff will be limited to Cuevas (colorist) and Gaither (hairstylist). By October 1, the partners hope to have the entire staff back to work, spread over two shifts, seven days a week. Staff will be limited to no more than four at a time.
“We are also updating phone numbers and emails of clients when they arrive to implement our own contact-tracing system,” says Cuevas. “I myself have set the example for my employees and have tested 4 times already.”
While Cuevas says they have a lot of catching up to do in terms of revenue, the steady stream of phone messages, email requests and online bookings give the partners hope. “Everyone desperately needs their color touched up,” he says, “Thank God.” Appointments may be harder to come by now that the salon is spacing them out accordingly for safety. In the meantime, Archer is still providing products for home care on their website, featuring luxury line, Oribe, as well as custom color kits.
“I knew that all of this had to be done quickly so we would be known in the area as the first to do it,” Cuevas says regarding the online services. “Who knew it would last this long.”
33 Grant Ave., 415.433.3334, archersalon.com
Photos courtesy of Archer Salon