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PORTLAND, Maine — Since the state announced it would allow salons and barber shops to reopen, Colleen Calder’s phone has been blowing up with appointment requests from regulars.
“I’ll be there on Friday,” many tell her. Like many barbers, stylists and cosmetologists, the owner of Aphrodite Salon in Portland’s Monument Square could use the work. She has not gotten unemployment benefits or a federal stimulus check.
But Calder won’t open until she is comfortable that she can implement new state health guidelines, which may not be for a few weeks. When salons reopen, they’ll be working at limited capacity to adhere to guidelines, she said. Stores she buys supplies from are closed.
“It’s going to be a different world for sure,” she said.
Barber shops and salons are among a first wave of Maine businesses cleared to open on May 1 as part of a timeline announced on Tuesday by Gov. Janet Mills to reopen the state’s economy after more than a month of business shutdowns prompted by the coronavirus.
That announcement has sent a shockwave through the industry, as barbers and salon workers balance safety risks against their own revenue drought. On Wednesday, some shops in urban areas with higher confirmed case counts grappled with the decision to reopen. Many barbers in rural areas were raring to go.
Though many of her friends are eager to get back behind the chair, Jessica Levecque, a self-employed stylist who rents a chair at KLM Studio on Congress Street, said she needs more time to process. She is targeting a May return, saying “we’re kind of the guinea pigs.”
“The demand for hair is insane right now,” she said. “You’ve got this pressure of going back to work and potentially exposing yourself [to the virus] and then coming home to your families, but if you don’t you might lose a big share of your business.”
Businesses that open Friday must adhere to a checklist of safety measures that have yet to be issued. Heather Johnson, the commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, said they are expected to include distancing protocols such as having clients wait in cars instead of waiting rooms and sanitation provisions.
“A business that’s not able to satisfy each and every one of the criteria on the checklist should think twice before they make the decision to reopen,” said Nirav Shah, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, at a Wednesday news conference.
Jason Dodge, who owns Momentum Salon on Exchange Street in Portland, has been watching state news conferences for weeks, hoping for this kind of “good news.” He’s been hustling to open by Friday, fielding a steady stream of appointment requests.
“We want to make people comfortable, safe, and make them feel human again by getting a haircut,” Dodge said.
The environment is much different in Machias. While Cumberland County has seen 45 percent of Maine’s 1,056 confirmed cases and 25 of 53 deaths from the virus as of Wednesday, Washington County has only seen two cases and no fatalities.
Wayne Wood took the virus seriously when it arrived, closing his Machias barber shop a week before a state-issued mandate. But he hasn’t been happy with the way it’s been handled since.
“If we had a whole lot of sickness and people were dying in Washington County, they wouldn’t shut the rest of the state down,” said Wood, who has owned Wayne’s Barber Shop on Main Street for 25 years.
He said his shop is “pretty sanitized as it is,” but when he reopens, he’ll make everyone wear masks, wipe down surfaces more frequently and implement a new plan to serve clients without the use of a waiting area. He said his wife “will take names and it’s going to be roughly an hour wait” with people waiting outside.
A local fixture, Wood said he’s had people begging him to make house visits to cut their hair over the last six weeks. He’s worried about how the economy is going to hold up over the summer, but he’s ready to get back to work.
“I’m excited,” Wood said. “The only nerve-wracking thing is that I got about 1,200 people who need their haircut at once.”
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