As Virginia barber shops and salons now can reopen for the first time in two months, owners and contractors are faced with a choice of adapting to a new reality or keeping their scissors to themselves.
For some, such as His Barber Shop in the Barracks Road Shopping Center, the decision feels like the culmination of weeks of waiting and preparing.
Owners Chris and Alan Bryant closed their shop on March 18 and have spent their time refurbishing the space and applying for a Paycheck Protection Plan loan, which allowed them to bring their 13 employees back onto payroll after several weeks of unemployment.
“There was no way for us to do the necessary social distancing while we continue doing business, and out of an abundance of caution not only for our clients, some of whom are fairly elderly, but our employees, as well, we shut the doors down, and that took us to basically zero income,” Chris Bryant said. "It was a tough time but thankfully we were still able to pay our rent."
On Wednesday, His Barber Shop started taking new appointments and, according to the Bryants, the phone rang all day.
However, with older clientele expected to visit the shop, the Bryants said they’re being extra careful.
Like many other industries that started reopening in Virginia on Friday as part of the start of Gov. Ralph Northam's Phase One, strict mandatory minimum guidelines have been set. Those include requiring masks for employees and clients and not allowing services that would require removing a mask, such as a beard trim.
All visits are to be by appointment only. The Bryants said they have expanded their shop's hours to accommodate more thorough cleaning and sanitizing.
“Wearing masks is important and so is high-touch surface sanitation, but the really big deal is washing hands and making sure our customers have washed their hands,” Chris Bryant said. “We're doing everything that we can possibly do. The governor, [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and the Virginia Department of Health set forth some best practices, and we're working on doing that.”
While the Bryants were able to get a federal loan that helped to mitigate their losses during the closure, Aaron Lamb, the owner and sole barber at Good Company Lambshop in Charlottesville, did not have the same luck.
Though he did some limited house calls during the closure, Lamb said the economic toll was significant.
As a commission-based worker without a traditional payroll or employees, he began taking carpentry side jobs to make ends meet.
As of Thursday, Lamb had booked nearly a week of appointments after he announced he would reopen Friday. Because he is the only barber at his shop, Lamb said social distancing and sanitizing are not things he expects to be a challenge.
“To get your barber license, you do have a base level of safety in mind, and so building off of that is not a huge step because myself and other barbers have always had that in mind,” he said.
While some hairdressers and barbers are reopening, others say they are more hesitant.
William Jones III and Yolanda Coles Jones, owners and operators of His Image Barber Shop and Adorn Natural Hair and Beauty, detailed in a statement the difficulty they’ve had since closing their locations on March 20.
“The future is uncertain where this virus, revenue generation and the possibility of more closures are concerned,” the statement reads. “What we do know is that we are prioritizing our health and wellness as well as the same for our family and all of the families associated with the His Image and Adorn brands.”
The Joneses are allowing the seven people who work under the His Image and Adorn brands as independent contractors to each decide whether to start taking clients again.
If the contractors decide to take on clients, they will take safety precautions, including touch-free entry, screening and payment processing.
“We want to emphasize to you the necessity of your keeping in mind that your choices regarding this matter will have an impact on every person who enters the space we share, as well as on the lives of those to whom individuals are connected outside the building,” the safety statement reads.
Clairbourne Nesmith, owner of the Honeycomb hair salon in downtown Charlottesville, said she is hesitant to reopen right now.
Nesmith opted not to open her salon Friday, citing health and safety concerns for both clients and staff.
“We’re in a boat that we’re going to take it slowly,” she said. “[The governor’s office] is putting so many restrictions and steps in place and it all seems like they’re telling us that we shouldn’t be open at this time.”
Instead, Nesmith has focused her energy on drawing attention to how the current unemployment system doesn’t do much to support people who don’t make a traditional hourly wage.
Working with the California-based Beauty Coalition, Nesmith said she is trying to not only draw attention to this issue but also help to organize the beauty industry, which she described as being fractured into various different business models.
Though Nesmith said she understands some customers are eager to get back to routines and have their hair cut, due to current precautions, she expects the experience will greatly differ.
“I don’t think that they realize that what they’re fighting to get back to isn’t that pampering that they’re used to,” she said. “In some ways, this may lead to a customer service reset, where the dynamic is shifted.”