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Local barbers brace to reopen under pandemic restrictions

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Even as the weeks of having her business shuttered grind on, Krystal Jones, owner of Legendz Barbershop in Meriden, worries about what reopening could mean for the safety of her workers and customers.

“I really don't want to, I don't feel like it's safe enough yet,” she said. Though she’s wary of opening amid the pandemic and of the impact the rules will have on operating her business, Jones said she cannot afford to have the barbershop closed much longer.

Jones was able to continue making the approximately $2,000 a month rent payments on her shop by running through money saved for her honeymoon, but she worries that businesses without cash on hand might not be able to reopen at all.

With just several days remaining before May 20, barbershops and salons are rushing to measure out six feet between their workstations, manage increased appointments while walk-ins are barred and acquire the required protective equipment from a supply chain struggling to keep hospitals and nursing homes equipped.

While she was able to quickly book appointments, Jones is still waiting for shipments of face shields, touchless thermometers and disinfectant to arrive. She ordered them in mid April.

She feels like the state is using stylists as “guinea pigs” for reopening the personal services sector, and worries if conditions take a turn for the worse the state will shut them down again.

For the first stage of reopening, the state is focusing on reopening businesses that have a low risk of transmission and good potential for modifying practices to accommodate efforts to limit the spread of the virus, according to the Reopen Connecticut guidelines.

Businesses looking to reopen on May 20 — which also includes retail and restaurants with outdoor seating — must review the rules and self-certify that they can achieve compliance on the state Department of Economic and Community Development website.

The requirements for barbershops and salons include operating at half capacity, closing waiting areas, social distancing markers, improving ventilation, limiting equipment shared between employees and training staff on proper cleaning procedures.

Personal protective equipment must be worn by both employees and customers throughout the haircut and styling that would require removing the mask is prohibited. Conversation between individuals within 6 feet should also be limited.

“While these rules provide a way for hair salons and barbershops to reopen as safely as possible, risks to customers and employees cannot be fully mitigated,” the document says, urging those vulnerable to COVID-19 to remain at home. “Customers who choose to visit hair salons and barbershops during this time should be aware of potential risks.”

Edward Pratte, owner of the Gentleman’s Barber in Meriden, said he expects to see haircut prices spike as stylists grapple with the economics of adding the constant stream of disposable protective equipment to their expenses. Employers are also responsible for providing their employees with PPE and cannot open unless they are able to do so, the state guidelines dictate.

“I know I'm going to get a rush the first maybe month, month and a half … but it’s not going to last. It's not going to last because people aren't going to want to pay the prices,” Pratte said.

Since he has a smaller shop, he was forced to purchase partitions to divide his workspace and is also struggling to source enough gloves to be able to open.

“Do I want to open on May 20? Absolutely. The possibility of me opening on May 20 is very slim,” he said. “ … It’s really hard to follow these guidelines that the state wants you to follow when availability on the products they want you to use is very slim.”

Switching to being appointment only will be an adjustment for Dino's Modern Barbershop in Wallingford, said owner Dino Fernicola.

After a bit of finangling to get all the workspaces the proper distance apart, Fernicola said he’s feeling well prepared to reopen, though he’s expecting to have to work long days to keep up with the surge of customers he’s anticipating.

“If it was just walk-ins we would probably have a line out the door and up the street,” he said.

He expects the largest challenge to be getting into the mindset of working during the pandemic, remembering to use masks and getting “brain trained” to remember all the new rules.

While he hasn’t been able to give haircuts for the past few weeks, Fernicola hasn’t been letting the time go to waste. He raised money to purchase meals from Cafe Amici in Hamden and Amici Tavern in North Haven to donate to first responders and medical workers. That grew to include other local businesses.

“It was very gratifying to know you’re helping these people who are risking their lives to help you,” he said. “It's so good to put a smile on their faces and help out in any way that we could.”

dleithyessian@record-journal.com203-317-2317Twitter: @leith_yessian

"It’s really hard to follow these guidelines that the state wants you to follow when availability on the products they want you to use is very slim."

-Meriden barber Edward Pratte

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