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Cut to the chase: Hair salons must choose to stay open or close shop 

  • Mia Georgopoulos of A Cut Above on South Main Street in Concord is staying open but has seen a drop in business. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Mia Georgopoulos of A Cut Above on South Main Street in Concord is staying open but has seen a dropoff in business, especially this week. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 3/24/2020 3:39:10 PM

Some chose to stay open, others to shut down.

Good luck figuring out which argument carries more weight.

Welcome to the odd and unique world of barbershops and hair salons, which are fighting through a perfect storm of uncertainty as the coronavirus continues its worldwide rampage.

These are small-business owners and independent contractors. They can’t go to work and remain a safe distance from their clients. Many of us can.

They can’t work remotely without the tools of their trade, professionally set up at home. Many of us can. And, finally, they won’t get paid, no matter where they are, if they don’t work, period. Many of us have sick time. Vacation and personal days, too.

Stay open, pay bills, risk infection? Or stay home, stay safe, take a major hit financially?

“I have to pay my bills, my utility bill, my rent, and that is why I have to work,” said Mia Georgopoulos, who’s owned the hair salon Elektra on South Main Street for nine years. “I still have customers who want to come in, but I will stay open less hours.”

She was open for business all last week. She said things were okay. Only five cancellations.

This week has been different. Twelve cancellations in two days thus far. Georgopoulos had a client in the morning on Tuesday and was scheduled to have three more in the afternoon.

Health-wise, she’s not too worried, saying, “I’m careful, I sanitize, so not worried for me as much as for older people. That’s why they stay home, because they are older and they are afraid.”

She’s one voice at a time when these professionals have no particular road map to follow. They want one.

“I’m not going to close unless the government closes me down,” Georgopoulos said.

That’s what brought SabrenaMcPhail into our email box. She’s been in the salon business for more than 20 years. She runs Sabrena’s Creative Styles in Tilton. She contacted the State Board of Barbering, Cosmetology and Aesthetics, the governing body that licenses and supervises a code of cleanliness.

“They said listen to the governor, then, nothing,” McPhail said. “I reached out to him with an email, two of them, and I also left a voice mail and nothing.”

For example, Gov. Phil Scott in neighboring Vermont ordered all close-contact businesses, like fitness centers, tattoo parlors, and hair salons to close down. Here in New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Sununu has been reluctant to issue an order. 

“There are so many questions that we have in our business,” McPhail said. “What should we do? Give us direction. Are we safe? If we continued to work, are we safe?”

McPhail said she makes more money than her husband, but they’re willing to close shop in the name of stopping this monster.

“It’s not like I’m the only one who has to worry,” McPhail said. “It’s like someone is meeting the other 47 people I have met that day. You want everyone to be safe and stop so we can get back to normal. People are not taking it seriously enough. I had a guy call me and say he would be mad at me if I didn’t cut his hair.”

She closed last Saturday; her husband had wanted her to close three days earlier. They have a healthy mortgage after buying a new home two years ago.

“He was upset,” McPhail said. “I am very independent, and I spent over 20 years building my book to the point I don’t know where to put people anymore. I need money, but we’re in this together and the quicker we realize this, the better off we’ll be.”

Meanwhile, Debbie Andrews has owned Larry’s Barber Shop in Penacook for 14 years. She’s closed and laying low, one year after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Her immune system could be vulnerable after six rounds of chemotherapy. She has faith in state government, though. She’s optimistic.

“All this will blow over and this will all come together,” Andrews said. “We’ve seen the worst of it. The governor has done everything in his power. He’s given everyone out of work the opportunity to get unemployment, and he’s mandated you can not stop utilities or be thrown out of your apartment.”

But where’s the specific language, the guide, the plan, geared especially for the pros in this perfect storm? This independent community of business owners and contractors are on their own, for now.

Meanwhile, McPhail colored her hair Tuesday morning and planned to add highlights Wednesday morning because she like everyone still cares about her appearance.

“People still think it’s important to look good,” she said. “It makes them feel good.”

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