So here’s one of the worst-kept coronavirus secrets:
If you really want to get a haircut, you can get one.
It’s right there under our noses: not-so-subtle social media posts, secretive texts about semi-stealth meet-ups between barbers and customers, some who have been known to offer 10 times the price of a pre-COVID cut.
For barbers, the temptation to keep working is overpowering, especially while waiting for unemployment or small-business grants that might never come.
I’m a strict coronavirus rule-follower, but choosing between following the rules and feeding your family is not a choice.
And while claiming a God-given right to haircuts is an idiotic thing to protest about when thousands of people are dying every day, closing barbershops that are vital in communities for so many reasons beyond a close cut make this national isolation even harder.
They’re communal gathering spots.
A safe place for kids.
A second chance for many.
Alcides Franceschini, known as “Mr. Cee,” is the longtime owner of Philadelphia’s Consider It Done Barbershop.
The North Philly barber had a backup plan during the 2008 recession. He went back to school for a few months to learn how to drive a truck so he could keep his business open and his barbers working.
But not even a second job could help during the pandemic, when forced shutdowns didn’t just close his place, but dried up his trucking opportunities for a while.
He worries about the future of the shop, which was already struggling financially. But he also wonders what these neighborhood touchstones will look like on the other side of the pandemic.
Can youse really debate barbershop politics or talk smack about rival sports teams through masks? What happens to kids who find their way to the barbershop, looking to sweep up to keep busy? Or the guys who found stability by becoming barbers? “Let’s just put it this way,” Mr. Cee said. “Being a barber saved my life.”
No one knows for sure what the new protocols will be, but Philly area barbers said the days of waiting rooms and walk-in appointments are likely over. Although he thinks the reaction to the virus has been a bit overblown, Joey Andris, owner of L.K. Trendsetters Salon in the Mayfair section of the city, has already spent upward of $1,000 on protective gear in anticipation of reopening.
In the meantime, barbers wait and worry while forced to make some tough — and potentially dangerous — decisions.
Eric Robledo, a barber at Consider It Done, used to help out his elderly parents; now they’re helping him. So, it’s been hard to say no to giving a few cuts (in protective gear) to longtime customers who are friends. In the nearly two months since the shop’s been closed, his co-worker Nathaniel Zenon, a father of five, went through his savings and credit cards until he felt he had no other option than to do something most barbers I spoke with have also done: Make a few house calls.
“I mean, I gotta do what I gotta do to put food in the fridge,” he said. “I’m behind on rent. It’s been rough for us ‘nonessential workers.’”
Not that he or other barbers consider themselves nonessential — especially given how much training licensed barbers get in sterilization.
Ron Curtis, longtime owner of Final Touch Barber Shop in Ambler, opened a barber school in Philly just weeks before the shutdown, forcing him to close shop and move classes online. But he’s keeping the faith. He’s just been approved for a small-business loan, and if he gets the money, he plans to help his employees out until they’re back at work. “It’s way bigger than cutting hair,” he said.
Of all their fears and frustrations, barbers have a message for the people making decisions about their livelihoods:
“I relate it to Prohibition 2.0,” said Nick Tosti, owner of Fuze Barber Shop in Newtown, Bucks County. “When you take away alcohol legally in the ’20s, were people still drinking? Think about how unsafe those transactions were, to go and have to buy alcohol in a backroom alley. This is what’s happening right now. It’s very, very serious."
For now, there are numerous online petitions calling for barbershops and salons to open, and some barbers are meeting virtually to discuss their comebacks for those lucky enough to get them.
Two months into mandatory shutdowns, there already are plenty of businesses around the country that tried to hold on but couldn’t, their sad news often shared in unceremonious social media posts.
I came across one posted on Facebook last week from the owner of a Minnesota barbershop who tearfully announced:
“Prohibition Barbers will not be reopening.”