CIUDAD JUAREZ — Months after the U.S.-Mexico border was closed to all but essential travel as a COVID-19 precaution, small businesses have been forced to find ways to new ways to cope.
“Many of our clients are from El Paso, so at first, they didn’t come as often because the situation was difficult,” said Natalia Briceño, 23, creative director for the nail salon Durazno Claro.
After her two sisters and a cousin opened up the nail salon in June of 2019 in Ciudad Juárez, Briceño joined in September as the business’ demand rose quickly. The salon has customers from both sides of the border, enticing those coming from the U.S. with prices nearly half than what businesses in El Paso charge.
As COVID-19 spread throughout the two cities, it closed its doors in March for three months when the governor of Chihuahua ordered non-essential businesses to close as cases spiked. The border has been closed for Mexican nationals for nearly eight months now.
Since reopening on June 15 for its binational customers, Briceño has been surprised to find people were eager to return to get their nails done. The salon’s appointment schedule quickly filled up.
Even though clients from El Paso face the possibility of longer wait times at international bridges after U.S. Customs and Border Patrol began efforts in August to discourage non-essential travel from Mexico, Durazno Claro has seen an influx of clients from the U.S. side of the border.
“After two, three weeks they slowly started to return. Even a week ago many of our clients came from El Paso,” Briceño said.
In order to keep employees and customers safe, the business now follows strict protocols, like requiring face masks, disinfecting tools more often and having customers step on a sponge mat soaked with disinfectant to kill germs on their shoes. The salon also checks temperatures before customers enter to get their nails done.
“I went back immediately because I was sure they would take the necessary precautions,” said Paola Peña, 23, another customer from El Paso. “I never get nervous when going.”
Even if the business is not considered essential, Briseida Mota, 26, an El Paso resident who crosses the border to get a set of gel nails at Durazno Claro, continues to go on a monthly basis and says she considers the salon’s services essential — but not only for aesthetic purposes.
“I go do my nails once a month and, if I don’t have my nails, actually they start hurting because they have become very thin,” Mota said, noting how the gel is applied in layers in order to thicken the nail.
The business is struggling with another issue caused by the border shutdown. they would buy most of the items they use in El Paso since it was cheaper to buy .
Before the pandemic led to a border shutdown, the salon’s owners crossed the border to purchase tools and supplies.
“There are things we buy from the U.S. and the fact that we cannot cross is complicated,” Briceño said. “It slows down the periods of having to go purchase things and bringing them back here.”
Although they have found deals on the internet, once the border reopens, Briceño said the plan is to keep buying some items online, but said they are desperate to be able to cross in order to avoid waiting for products that are easily bought in bulk in El Paso.