Flint, MI—As Michigan’s stay-at-home order drags on, out of work barbers and hairstylists are finding creative ways to continue serving their clients—sometimes within the government’s guidelines and sometimes not.
“It affected business tremendously,” said Omar Harris, owner of Courtside Cuts on North Chevrolet Avenue in Flint.
Harris says he is still providing services to close family members, as needed.
“For myself, this is my only means of income. My family always paid me for services, so for me to just be down to family, it’s crazy. That’s 90% of my income. Right now, I have three consumer bills due, three water bills due, they’re all over $300.”
While he’s struggling to make ends meet, he’s also worried about the other barbers who would normally be cutting hair beside him in his shop.
“I have 12 to 13 guys out of employment right now, which has made it tough on everybody … I’m extremely worried that a lot of (customers) won’t come back. A lot of people are getting accustomed to working abroad because you’ve had to adjust. There’s a lot of people, frontline workers, that need their services. People are handing out food, a lot of these barbers and hair [stylists] are still abroad, still doing some sort of service,” he said.
Dan Buccilli, the owner of Refinery Hair Co. on Harrison Street in Flint’s downtown, says he currently provides booths for about 17 stylists, all of whom he expects to bring back following the suspension of the stay-at-home order.
“All of our stylists and massage therapists, they are self-employed. We, as a business, didn’t have to necessarily lay them off, but we obviously had to close the doors on them. They all pay a chair and a room fee, and so once we had to close our business, we decided that we weren’t going to hold them responsible to pay that,” Buccilli said. ‘We just didn’t feel like in our hearts we could charge them their rent.”
While shops are closed, owners and stylists have had to brainstorm new ways to sustain themselves.
“This is really my main source of income. I do…part-time jobs if they line up a good pay for me and work around my hours at the shop but for the most part, I just cut hair,” said Ja’Quavis Nard, of Kevin’s barbershop on Corunna Rd.
Some have “come up with a solution,” as Nard put it, in the form of house calls.
“That’s all I have to offer. On the warmer days, I don’t have to go in their house, or in their home, we can just be on the back porch, which is actually a better safe zone than being in someone else’s house at this time,” he explained.
“When I do go into the home, I have disposable gloves and I wear masks over my face. I also work with 91% alcohol. I use that on my clippers, that’s an automatic thing that I use. It’s high in isopropyl, which kills a lot of germs, (and) is actually just as good as sanitizer, so I keep some of that around (to use) daily.”
House calls come with risks, as it violates the state’s stay-at-home order. Some barbers have made national headlines for flouting the rules, including a barbershop owner in Owosso, MI, who had his license temporarily suspended.
Other people in the industry, like Buccilli, opted for different routes.
“I have seen other stylists via social media and stuff that are offering to do house calls and stuff. I know that our staff really isn’t doing any of that just because, really, it is illegal for us to do that, to offer our services being licensed,” he explained.
He went on to talk about, instead, putting a lot more effort into social media, text, and other forms of engagement.
“We’re really trying to make sure to reach out to all of our clients, making sure that they are still feeling comfortable and offering solutions if they need anything.”
Some stylists, he mentioned, are starting to premix color kits for clients who have grey hair starting to grow in, so they can touch up their roots along the hairline.
“That’s not something that we’re necessarily promoting as a business, but if the stylists choose to do that, that’s one thing that is helping them.”
“We are still accommodating retail sales. Everybody needs to stock up on their styling products, shampoo, conditioner and stuff like that. It’s definitely not what our sales were as far as retail goes when we were open, but a lot of people still have shown their support and they’ve wanted to know what they can do to help us out and support small businesses. That little bit of cash flow has definitely helped,” he says.
Still, business practices are troublesome and few are accepting new clients, making it difficult to expand.
There is a widespread anticipation for the Governor’s orders to lift, and many have been tentatively preparing to open their doors.
“I planned on opening up on the 4th because that was the initial day the stay-at-home was supposed to be done, but now I’m just gearing up until May 15,” said Harris.
Some organizations have been anticipating these openings as well, putting together funding to help support these business owners and workers get back on their feet in the wake of this widespread financial deficit and ruin.
Early May, Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce announced $200,000 in grant funds from the Consumers Energy Foundation, which will be dispersed among small businesses in Genesee County that have suffered under the heel of the current pandemic. $5,000 will be awarded to various industry sectors, barber shops and hair salons being one of them.
“We know that a small business is the backbone of our state and our economy, and we know how much they have been impacted,” said Debra Dodd, Senior Public Information Director for Consumers Energy.
“It’s just such an unprecedented time, and so we wanted to make sure that Michigan small businesses were at least partially taken care of and we want to see if we can help them survive this and thrive after this event is over.”
The grant is said to be the first publicized aspect of this recovery program, and while she says she can’t talk details at the moment, to stay tuned in a week or so.
“Personally, I know I am ready to get my hair done and I just hope at some point, sooner rather than later, the state can figure out a plan to help these businesses reopen because there’s a great need for it. I know people think it’s an aesthetic thing, but most people I know need to get their haircut at one point or another. And this is the livelihood of many, many people who are great people and want to get back to work,” said Dodd.
“I hope that we can figure out something where they can come back to work, but in the meantime, these grants will certainly help these small businesses.”