As small shops in the eight-county Capital District are slated to open today, things will not be the same as they were on March 22. Masks are a mandated must. Disinfectant will flow like wine at a sorority party or sprayed like water on a fire. And don’t you dare come within six feet of anyone.
Entrepreneurs, though, are champing at the bit to get back to business, albeit with some uncertainty and justified concerns about how things will go under the tired phrase “new normal.”
“It’s been a little hard but we are excited about opening back up,” said Domenico Figliomeni, the proprietor of Dominic’s Barbershop with three locations in the Capital District. “It will take me an extra 10, 15 minutes to sanitize after each cut and that adds up, and there is only so many hours in the day to give haircuts so there will be less haircuts per day which means less money but we are still excited about being back.”
At his Albany Shaker Road shop in Loudonville, he spent $1,200 to install Plexiglas barriers between the barber chairs because there is not enough room to get six feet between them, and spend nearly $2,000 on sanitizer, masks and disposable gowns, which will be tossed after each customer. The initial investment isn’t bad to absorb, he said, but he is not sure how long the supplies will last or how many times he will have to order more. In the end, it will be more expensive to operate his business, but he said he will see how things go before he increases his prices.
The chairs where walk-ins used to wait for a barber are removed, and only people getting a haircut will be allowed in the shop. Anyone who shows up as a walk-in will have to wait in the car until a chair opens up. The barbers and the clients will wear masks, and if the client doesn’t have a face covering, one will be provided. Chairs, the stations and all the tools will be sanitized after each customer. Gloves are not required, and he is not making his barbers wear them unless the customer wants them to don a pair. All five barbers at the Albany Shaker store will, though, thoroughly wash and sanitize their hands after each customer.
“I’m kind of coming up with my own rules because nobody is sure how this will go but I hope people understand,” he said. “I feel, for the most part, we will be OK.”
He and other barbershops and salons that are included in Phase II have it relatively easy compared to some businesses like restaurants and bars who have to first purchase an inventory and then hope people are confident enough to spend time at their establishment — with at least some strangers in close proximity — and spend money.
Joleen Benincasa, Co-Owner of Avanti Hair Studios in Guilderland, is setting similar protocols. She installed vinyl barriers between her stations and customers are required to wear a mask. She installed touchless sanitizers and is asking customers to come alone unless they need assistance getting in and out of the her shop. To keep foot traffic to a minimum she eliminated double booking — or the practice of scheduling a haircut while doing longer treatments like hair coloring — and is staggering schedules so less people will work at the same time.
“We will try to keep the flow of the salon differently. People are used to coming in and sitting in the waiting room and having coffee and water and reading a magazine and chatting and they love it. It’s a social day. It’s a positive experience,” she said last week during one of County Executive Dan McCoy’s daily press briefings. “We want to keep it positive and not have them worried or scared to come in but it is going to be different.”
Figliomeni said his barbers have been home since March 22, and while some employers are reportedly having a difficult time convincing employees to come back to work thanks, in part, to a federal stimulus program granting an additional $600 a week to unemployment benefits, he said his barbers are eager to get back to cutting hair.
“I’ve been keeping in contact with them. Some of them are friends so I wanted to make sure they are OK,” he said. “They have been collecting unemployment so I’m glad they all want to go back to work because they are sitting home and getting paid. They are a little bit concerned about the virus, and they are concerned about the new rules but they have been home a long time so they are ready.”
The largest stimulus package directed at helping small businesses was geared towards helping employers make payroll but that, obviously, only applied if the doors were still open. His shop was closed on March 21 and while he is exploring other aid options, he has not yet received any assistance.
“I can’t wait to open and get back to business,” he said. “It is going to be us making less money for a while, but we will figure it out and make the best of it.”
He is not as excited as his clients, many of whom had not had a decent haircut since barber shops and businesses across the state were ordered closed. He said he is fielding a number of phone calls every day by his clients looking to make an appointment and he expects it will take a few weeks to get caught up, especially with the new rules in place.
“A lot of our clients can’t wait to come back. Everyone needs a haircut,” he said. “On Wednesday we will be open, and we may open longer hours so we can fit everyone in. I can’t do the same number of haircuts as we were doing before so we may work a few extra hours a day until we get caught up and then see how we are doing.
“This is all going to be new for a while.”