African American Barbers Battle To Restore Reputation During The Pandemic


African American Barbers Battle To Restore Reputation During The Pandemic

An African American and co-owner of Main Attraction Unisex Salon, Kenny Duncan, has led the charge on speaking up for Black barbers who he felt were treated unfairly during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

While many businesses had to close their doors due to financial reasons, barbershops were one of the first establishments to get shut down due mainly to health regulations placed on them by the government.

Duncan has formed a consortium of African American barbers to advocate for not only the rights for barbershops in the state of Pennsylvania, but also financial assistance that many shops were denied because of legal loopholes.

With new precautions in place, Main Attraction has now focused its attention on restoring the reputation of barbershops and during its part to flatten the curve.

Philadelphia’s barbershops reopened on Friday under new state guidelines, after being closed for the past four months due to government regulations.

The new guidelines have changed how barbershops operate and serve their customers during the coronavirus pandemic.

The State Board of Barber Examiners’ regulations call for barbering services to be scheduled in advance and clients must wait outside the shop until it’s time for their appointment. Barbers must pre-screen appointments with a verbal questionnaire and ask customers if they have experienced any COVID-19 symptoms or been exposed to someone with the virus within the past 14 days. Both barbers and clients must wear face masks.

Mike Monroe, the owner of ESPM Hair Zone in West Philadelphia, said some of these new guidelines for barbers should be reevaluated.

“I think that some of the regulations are a little strict and I think that they need to reevaluate some of them, but overall I understand because we are in close proximity with a lot customers and they are concerned about the spreading of the virus,” said Monroe, who has been a barber for 27 years.

“Most of us as barbers are trained to really deal with infectious diseases and handle ourselves in a proper manner.”

One key change is that barbers are no longer allowed to groom men’s beards because clients cannot remove their face masks in the barbershop.

“That’s going to be the biggest issue in Pennsylvania,” said Kenny Duncan, a master barber and co-owner of the Main Attraction Unisex Salon in Overbrook.

“There are a large number of African-American men who groom their beards and the primary reason why they frequent the barbershops more than a Caucasian man is they typically have their mustache, beards and goatee growing and they need to have that groomed,” he explained.

“That’s not something they feel comfortable doing at home,” Duncan said.

The new regulations will impact how the barbers can serve their clientele and the cost of doing business. They must invest more money in purchasing capes, smocks and personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves.

Prior to the coronavirus, barbers would often reuse capes and smocks on clients. Now due to possibility of contamination, they are required to use disposable or freshly laundered capes on every client.

“It’s costly for a business that has not been open for four months and has not received funding,” Duncan said. “The additional costs are going to be detrimental to some businesses.”

Some barbershop owners are planning to raise their prices to help supplement these additional costs.

“We will have to raise our prices to make ends meet and for us having to get the PPE,” Monroe said.

“We’re just trying to see what it the best fit is for our community because we know that everybody is in a situation financially. We’re trying to be reasonable,” he said.

Under the regulations, barbershops must now operate at no more than 50% capacity, which includes the number of clientele and staff.

“You’re not able to operate at full capacity which means that technically half your revenue won’t be able to be accessed,” Duncan said.

“No matter how many people want to get a hair cut, you have caps on how many people you can service.”

Duncan and Monroe were part of a coalition of about 30 barbershop and salon owners that encouraged state senators to establish $100 million Historically Disadvantaged Business Revitalization Program for small businesses that experienced loss as a result of the business closure order. The measure is part of a $225 million initiative to provide COVID-19 relief to small businesses.

Monroe is concerned that the state’s barbershops and salons that complied with the state’s business shutdown orders won’t get their share of the funding.

“We’ve been closed the longest out of everybody and we deserve to be rewarded with this money,” he said. “We took a major loss and we’ve got to sustain our families.”

Monroe Handy Sr., a longtime barber, is concerned about how his business will rebound from the shutdown. He’s adapted to the new regulations and is looking forward to welcoming his customers back.

“As a small business you have to do the best that you can,” said Handy, whose barbershop has been in Logan for 53 years. “A lot of them (small businesses) are not going to be able to bounce back. I’m hoping to be able to bounce back.”

Do you think the state will grant barbers financial assistance and reevaluated regulations to operate?

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