KENDALLVILLE — Barber Randy Smith Jr. didn’t care much for being declared ‘non-essential’.
“As soon as I heard out of Gov. (Eric) Holcomb’s mouth that I was considered ‘non-essential’ I was furious,” said Smith, owner and head barber of Junior’s Barber Shop in Kendallville.
It took seven weeks, but Smith is finally back to cutting hair, even if the process of getting a haircut looks a bit different now.
On May 11, Indiana advanced to Stage 2 of its five-step reopening plan, which meant that restaurants and bars can open up for 50% capacity, and hair salons, barbershops and other personal service businesses could reopen with restrictions.
All barbershops and salons that open up are required to follow certain guidelines including keeping social distancing guidelines, mandating both staff and customers wear masks and operating by appointment only.
At Junior’s, with a 3M mask over his nose and mouth and his glasses over the top, Smith is back to snipping long hair off customers long overdue for their trims, all of whom are also wearing masks across their faces while in the chair.
Smith said that wearing the masks can be annoying at times because it fogs up his glasses. Despite the foggy glasses, Smith wears one.
Village Hair, a salon down the street from Junior’s, has also implemented some new rules to help keep the shop as safe as possible for its customers. Since opening back up, they are available by appointment only, masks are mandatory for all customers, every customer gets a clean cape and when customers walk in they are asked to wash their hands. They have also booked fewer customers during the day to allow 15 minutes to clean in between clients.
The day that hair stylists could get back to work, Village Hair stylist Deb Beiswanger admits she wasn’t quite prepared for the deluge of business.
“On that Monday, I was not prepared for the phone calls,” she said.
Smith and Beiswanger’s shops were both closed after being considered ‘non-essential’ in March, creating not just income problems while they were off but scheduling problems since they’ve been back.
Some barbers around the country have defied the closing and have continued to conduct business and some even losing their license. While that didn’t happen locally, Smith said he was supportive of barbers elsewhere who kept cutting even amid fines and license suspensions, including one prominent story out of Michigan.
“I stand with the barber in Michigan,” Smith said, “We shouldn’t have to roll over our freedoms.”
With his shop closed, Smith couldn’t earn an income and he wasn’t able to get unemployment, either.
Smith tried applying for two different kinds of unemployment and was denied both times. He said even though it looks like everything is OK on television, it’s not. The first time he applied for normal unemployment, the second time it was for the special Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and neither went through, he said.
During the time she was closed, Beiswanger did a lot of things to keep busy, from walking to cleaning her house, she found ways to be productive. Beiswanger thought it was interesting how it was decided who was essential and non-essential.
“I’m not considered essential but a golf course can stay open?” Beiswanger said.
When Beiswanger’s shop opened up after being closed for seven weeks, she said she had to turn away around 50 people in the first week.
When the salon reopened, she had a different problem — trying to figure out how to fit more than 100 clients onto the schedule. Other than the huge influx of people wanting their hair done, Beiswanger said she’s been running her washer and dryer at home constantly trying to get clean capes and towels for everybody.
With business back, even under unique circumstances, Smith said customers are glad to finally get in for a trim again.
“People are glad that the barber shops are open again because they have had to suffer through (having) longer hair than usual,” Smith said.
Jim Worman, a customer in Junior’s Barbershop waiting to get his hair cut for the first time since it’s been open, said he believes that the shop should have been considered essential in the first place.
“He’s the only one I’ll let touch my hair,” Worman said.