Barbers serve customers at the Headlines Barbershop on E. Independence Boulevard in Charlotte. (Photo: Courtesy of Headline Barbershop)

Janice Horne wasn’t surprised when Gov. Roy Cooper ordered all beauty salons and barbershops throughout the state to shut down effective Wednesday at 5 p.m., the latest state move to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Horne, owner of Radiance Hair Studio at Beatties Ford Road and Cindy Drive, had closed her shop days earlier.

Until recently, five of her six booths were in use. But when coronavirus began spreading through Mecklenburg County, Horne and the other stylists in her shop collectively decided to shut down out of client safety concerns — especially because the shop has a number of elderly clients, and also because one of their co-workers had a health issue.

“My stylists are on top of everything,” Horne told QCity Metro. “They’re informing me of stuff. We’re like sisters.”

Cooper’s order, issued Monday, affects a wide swath of North Carolina’s personal-services economy. In addition to haircare shops, the governor also ordered the closure of nail salons, massage and tattoo parlors, yoga studio, health clubs, indoor pools, bowling alleys, martial arts facilities, video game and bingo arcades, live performance venues, spas and more – all of them businesses that require close social interaction.

The order extended a statewide directive that already had closed movie theaters, dine-in restaurants and banned all gatherings of 50 of more people.

“Each and every choice we are making is intended to flatten the curve and provide our health care system the ability to treat the sickest patients in the coming months,” Cooper said in a statement on Monday. “This is what we need to do to slow the spread of this illness and protect the health and safety of North Carolinians.”

It also will financially impact thousands of Black business owners and entrepreneurs, many of them in the beauty and haircare industry.

Horne said she’s probably a bit better off than most shop owners, because she owns her building debt-free, and she’s not expecting booth rent from her out-of-work stylists.

“I only have to pay property taxes and certain utilities,” she said.

Others are less fortunate.

Uncertainty and anxiety

Season Bennett, co-owner of Headlines Barbershop on E. Independence Boulevard, said her biggest concern is paying commercial rent.

“That’s something we definitely need to talk to our landlords about and kind of figure that piece out,” she said.

Without knowing how long the shutdown will last, Bennett said she and her husband, Derrick, a barber, are unsure how to plan.

“’Everything keeps shifting day by day. That kind of thing adds a lot of anxiety,” she said.

Bennett said the governor’s executive order could be “economically catastrophic” for some barbers and stylists, and she expressed hope that some will find other work – a tall order in an economy that is practically shut down.

Asked what she now needs from state and federal government, Bennett said she wants to see the beauty industry included in any government plans to assist small businesses.

“It’s such a huge part of our economy. Just in Charlotte alone, there are over 300 barbershops,” she said. “The vast majority of the barbers and hairstylists and nail techs, all the people in the beauty industry, they are self-employed. They pay taxes, they’re paying into Social Security. We just need to make sure that they are included in this stimulus package.”

As more North Carolina workers have found themselves suddenly without jobs, the governor has signed a measure that lowers the bar for residents seeking unemployment benefits.

Not shocked by the shutdown

Natural hair stylist Wanda Nelson of Natural Ideas Salon on Old Statesville Road already has filed online for unemployment benefits, but so far she has heard nothing.

Despite client requests, Nelson said she has no plans to provide in-home services that could generate income but would also jeopardize her license and potentially affect her and her clients’ health.

“We had a feeling it was going to come,” Nelson said of the industry shutdown,” because they don’t know how this (virus) is being spread, and they kept saying to keep the people that you come in contact with down.”

Last week, Nelson implemented extra sanitizing procedures, including wiping down her workstation after each client. She also called her customers and asked some to stay home, particularly if they were older, and she didn’t accept any new or walk-in clients whose health history she didn’t know.

A last-minute rush

For barber Rick Lewis, owner of Crown Town Cutters Barbershop near the Brightwalk neighborhood just northwest of uptown, the impending shutdown has meant a flurry of customers calling to reserve a time slot in his chair.

“A lot of people are scared. A lot of people are unsure about the pandemic, but some people want to look good at home, so that’s what we do — we get them right before they go and sit at home,” he said.

Despite the economic pain expected, Lewis said he understands why the shutdown is needed. And as a barber shop owner for the past three and a half years, he’s learned to save for unexpected expenses.

“You never know what comes up in this industry,” said Lewis. “We don’t have sick days off or time paid off or whatever, but you have to prepare for stuff like that.”

Lewis thought for a few seconds then added: “Given the circumstances, I’m pretty much good. Me and my kids, we gonna be alright.”

Small-business advice

Bennett, the co-owner of Headlines Barbershop, has been in business for 12 years and works with others in the industry to develop marketing strategies. She said shop owners and stylists should use the shutdown to plan for future growth — activities such as developing web pages and creating social media content.

“Look at this as a time for planting seeds for the future,” she said. “The beauty industry is a super-essential business. So once things are back and up running, people are going to be busier than ever… It’s inevitable. It’s going to go back eventually. I don’t know when, but it will.”

Glenn H. Burkins contributed to this article.

What did you think about this article? Click here to share your feedback by answering five easy questions. This article was published under a grant from the Facebook Journalism Project, which partners with news organizations working to build a more sustainable future for community-based news.

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