Barbers who are also touring musicians. Cosmetologists who wait tables at night. What it’s like to be doubly and triply screwed by COVID-19.
All over Massachusetts, retail and service operations of all shapes and sizes have been asked (or ordered, really) to close for the foreseeable future.
A whole week before Governor Charlie Baker’s March 23 Order for non-essential businesses to cease in-person operations, the state’s Board of Registration of Cosmetology and Barbering issued a March 16 memo, addressed to to all licensees, nudging, “salons/shops and schools [to] follow any guidance from their local, state, and federal public health agencies on closures and/or limiting customers.”
Meanwhile, the Revere Board of Health ordered the immediate closure of all non-medically licensed personal care facilities on March 19. While Springfield edged a similar plea, “asking that certain venues take the precautionary measures needed during these public health emergency times by voluntarily discontinuing services,” Mayor Domenic J. Sarno said in a statement.
Easthampton went the same route—last Thursday, their Board of Health ordered barber shops, beauty salons, and body art establishments shut down for at least two weeks starting this Monday. As did officials in Arlington, Foxborough, Malden, Medford, Melrose, Milton, New Bedford, North Andover, Somerville, Wakefield and Winchester.
South Shore shops in Braintree, Duxbury, Norwell, Hanover, Holbrook, Marshfield, Pembroke and Quincy have halted all “personal care” businesses until early April, while in Western Mass, Holyoke, Agawam, and Chicopee also issued closure orders for barbershops, beauty salons, and massage therapists effective March 23.
Breaking from the pack, Haverhill ordered barbershops and hair and nail salons to take clients by appointment only, though that was before Baker’s order. But otherwise, the industry has been shut down for days. Wherever the fuck Feeding Hills is, they’re feeling it too.
Meanwhile, the small business owners and independent contractors whose livelihoods are on the line have no end in sight. Like the rest of us, sure, but with some unique problems too. I reached out to my friend Steve Flaherty, a barber and a barback who is doubly screwed in the coronavirus economy.
“I’ve already gone out on one appointment already, with two more scheduled,” he said over the weekend. “Two people canceled because they were worried about testing positive. It sucks. Delivering food and doing these housecalls are my only source of income right now.”
There are other road warriors out there, pounding the pavement to provide small services to help bring a smile during trying times. Dedham’s Philosophe Hair Salon owner Christina Elfar closed the doors to her salon, but packed up color kits in the event that she can do touch-ups at home.
“I want to make sure that people feel good and feel a sense of balance in their lives,” Elfar told WBZ News Radio. “I believe that starts with your hair. I don’t care if I’m delivering on a Sunday morning or whatever. I want to help where I can.”
Some may not realize that a lot of personal service providers are technically independent contractors, and do not qualify for unemployment. There are some efforts to lift the community in down times—a petition is circulating that calls for a Federal Aid Package for Cosmetology/Barber/Body Work Industry, while Bostonian Barber Shop near Fenway Park is going to bat for its workers.
“Self-employed beauty service workers are NOT covered on current relief bills being voted on at the federal level,” the shop’s plea on social media reads. “My guys are all 1099 and not eligible for unemployment and as of right now not able to cut in the shops any longer.”
Two Boston-based punk rock bassists are barbers when they aren’t bringing in the low notes to the studio or on stage.
“I got no idea what I’m gonna do to support me and my family right now, but I think it’s best to fall in line for a couple weeks to do my part to avoid something much worse,” Johnny Rioux said.
Rioux, who also plays bass in the legendary Street Dogs, cuts hair at East End Barbers in Houston when he isn’t belting out anthemic Boston anthems. He told fans in a Facebook post:
“It’s gonna be alright, I think we are all gonna get through this stronger. A good lesson for all of us that we aren’t in charge of anything.”
Slapshot bassist and Boston-based Barber Ryan Packer said that the lack of a safety net is a societal slap in the face.
“It’s a weird gray area honestly,” Slapshot bassist and Bostonian Barber Ryan Packer said. “We fall under a lot of rules of employees, but we are independent contractors. I’m building a spot in my shed this weekend that would resemble a workstation. I’ll be able to cut friends. We are in this weird limbo that we want to be socially conscious and not spread, but we have this stress of not paying out bills so we have to work. I have a newborn at home. My wife owns a salon. She’s on maternity leave, but we have no income at the moment.”
The two are double-fucked as barbers and touring musicians.
“We haven’t canceled any shows yet, but we are already talking about canceling our European tour,” Packer said. “The first show was in Milan! That show has been canceled already, but then it goes to some really rad spots. Belgrade, Budapest before going into the festivals. We are playing HellFest in France with Iron Maiden.”
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Nate is a Boston-based reporter who has written for the Boston Phoenix, the Boston Metro, and DigBoston among other publications.