Updated: May 7, 2020
The first of the month has come and passed. You just paid your rent with the last little bit of money that you had hidden between your mattresses. You lay in bed looking up at the ceiling and all you hear is the clock on the wall ticking. The darkness in your room seems amplified and haunted by your own thoughts. Thoughts that seems to be the loudest when your surroundings are silent. Coronavirus has shut down your business. Your work ethic and desire to be productive remains but your ability to provide for you and yours has been taken away by a force that is out of your control. Can you keep you business open? How long can we continue?
Things have been different since the majority of states in America have been shut down. The open sign in your shop has not been turned on in at least 6 weeks. What once was your pride and joy, your very own business , now weighs heavy on your heart. What's next? When can we open? When can we provide for our families? When can we see the spinning red, white and blue from our barber pole illuminate our neighborhood? For more than 2/3 of our states, the answer is still unknown. Some Governor's have extend the shelter-in-place order for weeks and even months. What's worse than having a tentative date to reopen is not having a date to reopen at all.
Instagram live feeds are filled with prominent members of the barber and hair industry conversing over our dire situation. The conversations are filled with ideas and ways to handle our current epidemic. Some common conclusions have been reached by the barbering and salon communities. The idea that we as licensed professions have been properly trained since day one
of attending barber and beauty school is universally agreed upon.
Terms like, "disinfection", "sanitation", "hospital grade disinfectant", "prevention" and "infection control" are all thoroughly taught at barber and beauty schools across the country. In order to obtain a barber or cosmetologist license, the student has to pass a written exam as well as show their obtained knowledge in a practical exam. The inspectors facilitating the test are hired by their respective state and grade for cleanliness, sanitation and client protection. They are the final authority and last hurdle before a student turns into a professional. Depending on the state, a student is required to complete 1,300-2,000 hours of education and training. Once the student has completed the training, they go and take the exam. They must pass the exam to obtain their license. It takes commitment, effort, and studying to become a licensed barber or cosmetologist. We don't just pick up or clippers and start cutting in a shop.
With all of the training in our repertoire. we hope the public can see our frustration. We don't want to see anyone sick or impacted by the virus. Barbershops and salons are places of joy. You enter with overgrown hair and leave with a clean cut. The barbershop and salon give the consumer confidence. The barber is most known for their talents behind the chair but that talent only comes after learning the foundations. Barbers and cosmetologist are important. The majority of barbers and cosmetologist are independent contractors or self employed. There is no sick time, paid time off, health benefits or hourly wage. When we file for regular unemployment we are denied. Some in our industry might qualify for the Pandemic Unemployment Insurance but that is not promised. The loans created to help our business stay afloat have floated pass us. Very few have received a determination on their loans. While other industries reap the help promised by our Government, it seems that barbers and cosmetologist are on the outside looking in. It is affecting us in a real way. Our finances seems to be disappearing faster than Small Business Administration's promise to help businesses like ours. The toll on our mental health is something that we try to hide in the shadows.
If this was a boxing match, and temporarily closing our business was the knock out punch, mental health is the pain that lingers for days, months and even years after. Most barbers and salon professionals earned their spot in the community by building their business from the ground up. We have the determination, grit and training to create something out of nothing.
As that dream that we worked hard to create is slipping away from us, our ability to stay hopeful and resolved is also slipping away. Everyday that our businesses sit idle and empty, it feels like the ref is making his 10 count to end the fight. Many of you relate to this feeling of loneliness and despair. The feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness make it seem like you are going to lose the fight. The good news is that the fight is not over. We have been knocked down but don't mistake us for being knocked out. Let us be determined not to be a victim of the coronvirus. Slowly state after state is opening up barbershops and salons. It is a slow grueling process that leads to many feeling frustrated.
One thing that is lacking in our industry is a voice in high places. We cut and style politicians but do we really have their ear? In times like this the answer is a simple no. Our industry is full of organizations and groups that collectively gather and have the best interest of the hair professional as their mission. This pandemic has showed us our limits. It is time to expand and get into the ear of politicians making decisions. Some organizations have begun to make a lot of noise against states. In recent Instagram post @barbersocietyla aka The Barber Society in Los Angeles reported that The Professional Beauty Federation Of California is opening a lawsuit against Governor Gavin Newsom to reinstate the barber and beauty industry sooner than scheduled in the California reopening plan. It is expected that other lawsuits in different states are coming to. Remember that every petition you sign might seem like a waste of time but it is more than a good gesture. The more barbers and cosmetologist work together the more we will get done.
My goal in writing this is to educate the public on the current situation with the hair industry. We are hurting. We miss contributing to our community. We miss earning our pay. We miss reinvesting back into our local economy. We miss the smell of the barbershop and salon. We miss making our clients look good. We are more than just hair-cutters. For the most part, we are independent contractors or small business owners who want a fair chance to work. Our livelihood is in danger of being gone forever. Small groups of barber and beauty professionals have started to defy their Governor's orders and opened up their barbershop and salon. Hours after reopening they are met by local law enforcement and told to close. Some receive fines and risk disciplinary actions against their state license. While most people think it is politically driven, it is not. We are driven by the very basic human nature of survival. Sooner or later, some barbershops and salons will open and some will stay closed for a little while longer because they want to see how things turns out. It takes courage to step out amidst ridicule and severe consequences. This is not a call to riot and rebel. I am just a small business owner who has a family to provide for. I haven't done any house calls or haircuts on the side. I don't condemn those that do. A minority group of hair professionals have been allowed to go back to work, but they think it is not safe to do so. Every faction of the hair industry has a place at the table of discussion.
As of now, I have been closed for 6 weeks with the potential for 8 weeks or more. Most barber and salon professionals are willing to change the way of doing business. The majority of the industry has agreed on wearing mask and gloves. They are willing to work by appointment and temporarily comply to all orders regarding opening back up. We just want a chance to turn our barber pole on, put our education to use and food on the table.
About The Author- Joe is the owner of Joe The Barber Studio. Joe The Barber Studio is a one-chair barbershop that offers traditional and modern barber services. His past work includes barber, barbershop manager and barber instructor in Arizona and the Southern California area.
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