Several shop owners said they can’t afford to remain closed much longer.
“There’s probably all kinds of barbershops talking about what’s going on with our government right now,” Mike Knuckles, 45, a barber at Select Cutz in Grand Prairie, Texas, told CNN Business. “If you lose a barbershop that’s been in the community 30 years and has a tradition and respect in the community, that’s huge.”
Damon Dorsey, 59, president of the American Barber Association, a barber advocacy group whose estimated membership of 3,000 is about 30% black, said he has spent weeks talking with worried barbers nationwide since the pandemic began.
They’re concerned about limiting the spread of Covid-19, but also want to “get back to making money,” Dorsey told CNN Business. “All are struggling with the uncertainty of the moment,” he said.
Craig Logan, 54, co-owner of Dre and Craig’s VIP Cuts, in McDonough, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb, estimated 85% of black barbershop owners he knows chose to reopen for business Friday. But Logan, whose cousin and aunt recently recovered from Covid-19 after being hospitalized, said he and his co-owner decided to keep their shop closed, in part, because of public pressure.
“I agree with the general sentiment even though, like everybody else, I wanted to get back to work,” Logan told CNN Business.
Several black barbers told CNN Business that a barber’s support for staying closed or re-opening often hinges on whether or not they own their own shop. Many barbers who don’t own shops have found other ways to supplement their incomes, including doing haircut house calls that put them at risk of catching Covid-19.
“These barbers, they’re risking their lives, but they’re doing fine,’ Mitchell said. “You going to die from infection or you going to die from starvation?”
For Dennis Mitchell, 54, owner of Denny Moe’s Superstar Barbershop in Harlem, New York, that decision has left him with limited options to keep his business afloat until the Covid-19 crisis comes to an end.
Mitchell said he normally pays his landlord thousands of dollars in rent each month for his storefront space on Frederick Douglass Blvd. He hasn’t been able to pay, because the nine other barbers who work there are independent contractors who rent the chairs and the space they use from him — and they haven’t been paying rent since Mitchell shuttered his business on March 28.
“It’s kind of bone chilling,” Mitchell told CNN Business. “I have an apartment I have to pay for as well and people who depend on me to put food on the table. … A lot of [black business owners] are not going to come back from this.”
Even if they survive social distancing, Mitchell and other barbers worry that the coronavirus has already changed their businesses more permanently.
The iconic black barbershop culture may be gone forever now that many customers want to avoid large gatherings in fear of catching coronavirus. “You got a lot of people saying, ‘I’m not going to be around nobody,'” Mitchell said
Trouble with PPP
Mitchell said he tried applying for a Paycheck Protection Program loan from the federal government several weeks ago, but found out he doesn’t have enough employees to qualify since his barbers are independent contractors, a plight shared by many barbershop owners.
Neither he nor his tax preparer received any response.
“If you’re a barber and you’re not a large enough priority for a major bank or financial institution, you’re going to be at a disadvantage getting your application in,” Dorsey said. “We’re going to see a certain level of disadvantage for black-owned business because of the nature of systemic racism that exists in the financing industry.”