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Barbers: ‘Hair doesn’t stop growing’ during virus lockdown

Closures ‘suffocating’ for businesses

Barber shops are among the many businesses that remain closed as a result of the corona­virus pandemic, and owners are not happy about it.

“It has been suffocating, I have not received a dime for the business. There is hope I will get unemployment. It is going on three months with nothing coming in; that would hurt anybody. I didn’t think it would be elected officials not allowing me to work,” said Marc Hoover, owner of Riverside Barber Shop, Williamsburg.

“It has been pretty significant,” said Nick Torsell, owner of Stallions Barber Shop, Altoona. “For barbers in the field, it’s been tough. We will probably be one of the last things to open up. The (COVID-19) thing happened at the end of tax season. I paid out a lot of money. We weren’t able to replace our funds at this time.”

Joe Martin, owner/instructor at Martin’s Barber School, Huntingdon, which closed March 17, said the hair industry — barber shops and salons — is being devastated.

“Many small shops have had zero income for nine weeks now,” Martin said. “Rent still has to be paid. Utilities still have to be paid — insurance, taxes, licenses still have to be renewed. While you can extend many of these payments, they still need to be paid down the road (and) with the average shop losing $2,000 to $10,000 a month in income, it doesn’t take long to be in way over your head.”

Martin said he listened to the governor’s suggestions, which quickly turned into orders by March 20.

“We erred on the side of safety as most small businesses have done,” he said. “We closed our doors for the safety of the community. We have remained closed since then, over nine weeks, and have yet to be told a re-open date other than the ‘green phase.”’

Many barbers are self- employed.

“There have been government programs that set up ‘loans,’ but they have been anything but friendly to the true small business owner (with less than five employees),” Martin said. “They helped many larger companies, but rules and guidelines have changed multiple times so these and many of the small barber shops and salons did not qualify or qualified for such a small amount it would be equivalent to a week or two of payroll.

“Many have applied for self-employed unemployment, but that was not available to even apply for until five weeks after they started the shutdown. While many have been approved, here we are nine weeks in, and many are still waiting for the first payment, including myself. Reality is a very different story than what many of the media and politicians are pushing.”

The issue is that most government officials and citizens don’t understand the training and testing and inspections that salons and barber shops go through in order to become a licensed barber, Martin said.

“Barbers and cosmetologists did not just wake up and open up a shop,” he said. “They have gone through extensive training and testing and inspections from the state. We spend well over 350 hours out of 1,250 hours going over things like scalp and skin disease, physiology, sterilization and sanitation, hygiene, communicable diseases, bacteriology, state barber law and rules and regulations. When you look at the training in which barbers and cosmetologists have gone through versus 90 percent of all businesses that are open now, there is no doubt that barbers and cosmetologists have more training and understanding and can perform their job safely without major issues.

“There is no reason barbers and stylists cannot take appointments only and put into practice the safety measures and sanitation that barbers have been taught and tested on in Pennsylvania since 1931. When you look at all of this, you have to question why we would not be allowed to open until the green phase.”

Hoover agreed.

“We were all highly trained in these specific areas before the pandemic started,” he said. “You can go to Lowe’s with 100 people, and no one bats an eyelash, but to have one person come into the shop is to be deemed unacceptable. They would rather see you go under than defy their orders.”

It has been difficult for the local shops to remain closed.

“My nature is to be optimistic, but it is hard to conceal the frustration,” Hoover said. “I am trying to do the right thing and follow the law. It has been hard to survive.”

Torsell isn’t open, but calls the prospect “very tempting.”

“I can see why other people are,” he said. “If I were really in trouble, I wouldn’t put it past myself. I don’t see why we are forced to stay closed. No one has to come in. They should be able to come in if they want to. I bet we will see a lot of small shops not open after this. Without a doubt our guidelines are much higher than the CDC, as far as sanitation and sterilization. If done properly, people should feel safe here. We will take even more precautions to be as safe as we can be. It would be safe to come in and get a haircut.”

Another issue has come out of the closings, Martin said.

“Barbers and stylists need income and people still need haircuts for various reasons — medical conditions, jobs, weddings, funerals, job interviews and hair doesn’t stop growing,” he said. “So now, because barber shops and salons have been forced to remain closed, we took what could be done safely in a sanitary shop and have pushed the industry into the underground, which is a much higher risk.”

Martin is optimistic the industry will recover.

“I have confidence that the hair industry will bounce back, but I feel for the thousands of professional licensed barbers and cosmetologists who have been held hostage by the threat of the state revoking their license and all the while trying to pay their bills and put food on their table,” he said. “With promise after promise of financial help by politicians being broken and pressure from lifelong clients to ‘just open’ without knowing the full consequences for the barber and their family.”

Martin also said the closing of his school is having an impact on his students.

“There were currently 13 students enrolled with another class getting ready to start, which has put many of their plans and futures on hold,” he said. “The impact has not only impacted current and future students training but also students who have recently graduated have been delayed in testing, which will cause a large backlog when the testing sites do reopen.”

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.

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