COVID-19 / Entrepreneurs / POC in Tech / Small businesses

How Black-owned barbershops and salons are preparing to reopen during the pandemic

The owners of Duafe Holistic Hair Studio, Details Barber Studio and Spinning Chairs share how they've kept their small businesses afloat these past few months, and their plans for reopening —safely — as PA enters the green phase.

Spinning Chairs barbershop in West Philly, the day before Pennsylvania's green phase began. (Photo by Julie Zeglen)

Barbershops and hair salons are among the the businesses that will be permitted to reopen this weekend in Philadelphia, and for Black small business owners — representing shops that are often a cornerstone of their local communities — the reopening means more than a chance to make money again.

Syreeta Scott is the owner of Duafe Holistic Hair Studio in North Philadelphia and says life has been stressful for her and her staff since the salon closed in March.

“We used to have anywhere from 700 to 900 people come in and out of salon in a month,” she said. “I never had to worry about us making our payroll. On March 16, we closed, and it was very abrupt.”

Initially, Scott found financial relief to pay her staff by selling Duafe hair products from the salon and also starting a GoFundMe that has raised almost $7,000.

But that wasn’t enough.

Like many small business owners, Scott applied for a U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). While PPP loans have been giving out billions of dollars as coronavirus relief, many small businesses have not been as fortunate.

“I was approved for the PPP loan weeks after it came out,” she said. “But I had to wait for the second round for money to hit and the money came months later.”

Opaque information about the nature of the PPP loans also blindsided Scott. It was only after she received her loan that she learned she could not use it toward money she had already spent out of pocket to pay her staff.

Jawwaad Jackson is the owner of West Philadelphia barbershops Details Barber Studio and Spinning Chairs and echoed Scott’s sentiments on the difficulty of managing his businesses through a months-long shutdown.

After a spring that saw his Spinning Chairs shop featured on Netflix’s “Queer Eye,” Jackson described tense moments and an insecurity in not knowing what the future held for his two barbershops. He was approved for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan but after two months has only received an advance on the loan so far.

“I did an SBA loan, which is stalling,” Jackson said. “They send you an advance and it’s cool but I really need the loan itself. That way, I can take care of staff, bills and rent. I have landlords expecting money. … These are terrible times right now having no income.”

Helping his employees put new health measures in place at the barbershops he owns has given Jackson hope as they reopen this Friday.

“I have safety guidelines in place,” he said. “I am looking at what the Centers for Disease Control [says], what the state guidelines are and local guidelines are in Philadelphia. That’s basically keeping patrons spread apart at least six feet. We have hand sanitizer and hand washing available. People are required to come in wearing a masks. We have masks ready for those without them.”

Scott also has new health measures in place at Duafe, but will be opening her shop more than a week later on July 7 to make sure things are safe.

“They gave us the light for June 26,” she said. “Now I have to be responsible enough for my staff, my family, our families, so I decided to wait until July 7 in case of a spike. Even though we haven’t been working since March it’s important for me.”

Scott say that her salon is “fully booked” but adds that even that means 40% less business than before the shutdown.

“Me saying I’m fully booked means that I’m cushioning the time between one client and another,” she said. “Maintenance that normally takes an hour between clients now takes one-and-a-half to two hours.”

Scott and her staff are also the owners of the 3,000-square-foot building that Duafe occupies. This advantage allows the salon to use more space in distancing patrons. With a new measure including a thorough process of sanitizing the building, sanitation stations and sealed products to prevent double dipping, Scott is hopeful that business can continue in a safe way.

Like many barbershop and salon owners getting ready to open this weekend throughout Philadelphia, Jackson aims to serve his community the best way he knows how.

“I feel like I do pretty well, but with COVID I feel like I have to do really great,” he said. “No one saw coronavirus coming. That was a huge eye-opener, especially when it comes to something you love doing. It’s my passion, therapeutic and I love serving my community. Seeing all of that dwindling [has been hard].”

Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Companies: U.S. Small Business Administration
Series: Coronavirus

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