Hidden Hair Salon tenancy terminated after 27 years; blamed on pandemic

After 27 years of operation at the Jamaicaway Tower and Townhouses, Hidden Hair Salon owner Ellen McLaughlin’s tenancy has been terminated by the Board of Directors. 

“I was blindsided,” McLaughlin said. She said she has had a month-to month lease since 2008. “I haven’t had to worry about it,” she said. “It hasn’t been a problem.” On May 13, she said she was informed that her lease would not be renewed for the following month. 

McLaughlin said she had been emailing the manager of the building with health and safety protocols and plans for her reopening when she was permitted to by the state, after closing down due to COVID-19 “We actually talked about how we would do it; how people would enter the building,” she said. The salon is located on the first floor of the Jaiamcaway Tower, “probably about 15 steps into the building.” She said that there would have been a no-touch entrance, masks would be required, and ;people would have to wait outside the building for their appointments.

In a letter to residents from the Jamaicaway Tower and Townhouses Cooperative Board of Directors dated May 21, the Board wrote: “The purpose of this communication is to set the record straight regarding the Board’s decision to terminate her tenancy at will in the Tower.  Closing The Hidden Hair Salon was a very difficult decision for the Board, since Ms. McLaughlin has been a longtime commercial tenant.  Given that many JTT residents are elderly and/or health-compromised, adding significantly to the adverse implications of contracting the corona virus, the Board’s overwhelming concern has been for their health and safety.  That concern has been at all times, and remains the primary criterion for our decision.”

McLaughlin said that while she understands there are older people living in the building, it’s 

not a nursing home, not an elderly home; it’s an apartment building.”

She said that when the pandemic first began, she took it upon herself to close the salon because she was “didn’t want to infect anyone,” she said. She also said that a lot of people started to cancel their appointments and even cancelled some appointments for older people herself. “This is my community,” she said. “I love these people. These are the people I’ve lived with for all these years. I would never hurt them.”

McLaughin had a chair at Hidden Hair Salon for two years before she owned it. Prior to that, she began her hairdressing career in JP at Fresh Hair, then became a travel agent before the opportunity to have a chair at Hidden Hair Salon came up. 

She said she had just finished renovating the salon, and just paid off her new washer and dyer last week. 

“It just blows me away,” she said. “I can’t believe they would have an emergency meeting and shut me down like that.” 

She said she has “been sitting around for two months waiting and planning,” and now she has to vacate the space by July 1.

“I’m trying to hold onto my business,” she said. “I would do 10 to 15 people a day. If I’m lucky now I can do four to six.” She said that her friend has offered her a chair at her salon for the time being, but she can only work there three days a week. McLaughlin’s employees are now also out of work. “I’m heartbroken about that; I feel awful,” she said. 

“I get their concern,” she said of the Board, “but I just feel like they never thought I was concerned. After all that time being there, I’m just amazed. I walk in there now and I just cry.”

The Board stated in their letter that they had made suggestions to McLaughlin such as only opening the salon to Jamaicaway Tower and Townhouses residents, but said that “she explained that the vast majority of her clientele (90%) comes from outside the building, so that was not economically viable. The Board then wanted to talk with Ms. McLaughlin regarding the future of her salon in the building, but was allegedly unable to have that conversation due to her unwillingness.”

She said she hung a letter from a lawyer on the salon door, but “someone was taping paper over it so no one could read it,” so she sent it out directly to the residents instead.

“My head is spinning, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” McLaughlin said. It’s too much of a fragile time that we’re living in. If I drag my feet I’m going to lose my business completely. It’s just awful.”

She said that many of her customers have reached out to her, as well as several people who live in the building who don’t even have their hair done by McLaughlin. “They’re all reaching out saying, ‘I can’t believe this is happening to you,’” she said.

McLaughlin said she believes the Board has construction plans for her salon space. 

The Board wrote in the letter that  “some residents may believe that ending the salon’s tenancy was part of a plan to take over that space and repurpose it, as was recommended by the Space Planning Report.  While some members of our community share that goal, it played no role in this decision.  For years, the salon has not had a lease and has operated on a month to month tenancy at will basis, which could be legally terminated any time by either Ms. McLaughlin or by the Cooperative with relatively short notice.  Any reasonable conversion of the salon’s space would cost more than the $50,000 capital improvement limit, and thus require a shareholder vote.”

The letter goes on to say, “In the absence of open Board meetings, which provided at least some barometer of shareholder sentiment, we do welcome input from all residents on all issues.  We recognize that this decision has upset some, especially because it is not a matter about which we could provide advance notice and solicit input,” and ends with, ”ultimately, the Board determined that terminating her tenancy in an effort to minimize serious and potentially fatal health risks to our residents was reasonable and appropriate during what appears most likely to be many coming months of life in a pandemic.”

But McLaughlin said she doesn’t think it was fair for the Board to have an “emergency meeting” to unanimously vote to end her tenancy without talking to her ahead of time. “It’s just heartbreaking. I’m heartsick over it.”

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