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Shear determination in strange times

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In a typical year, getting robbed and having the thief return the stolen goods a few days later would be the weirdest thing a business owner experienced. 2020 is not a typical year.

Bridget Lee, owner of Plain & Fancy Beauty Salon, managed to put a positive spin on the February heist, not knowing that less than a month later COVID-19 would try to steal something else — her livelihood.

Like virtually every other salon and barbershop across the state, Plain & Fancy shuttered in late March following Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order to combat the new coronavirus. After nearly 20 years in business, Lee found herself filing for unemployment.

Tuesday marked a potential turning point for Lee and others like her, as Plain & Fancy welcomed customers inside for the first time in two months.

“It’s been an experience,” Lee said. “It’s been very different, annoying but it is what it is. Hopefully the rest of the year will be on the up and not the down.”

Business appeared somewhat normal with clients happily getting their hair done, but the next few weeks will be chaotic as pinned up customers seek a sense of normalcy — and a fresh cut.

Staff booked appointments non-stop for the foreseeable future and clients seemed more than willing to accommodate new social distancing measures. Lee, in addition to a thorough cleaning of her salon, recommended people wear masks when they come and to wait in their vehicles until the stylist is ready.

“We’re doing the best we can,” said Lee. “We don’t want to keep a full lobby of people and get overcrowded in here. So far, everybody has been good and have been very understanding. They know it’s going to be hard for a while, trying to get everyone in. People want to wear a mask, some people don’t want to wear a mask. So far, it’s going pretty well. Things could always be worse for sure.”

Lee ran into a few supply issues during her reopening process and realizes a lot of people are patiently waiting for their appointment, but being open again makes any future headaches worth it.

“It was a relief, but also a bit overwhelming trying to figure out how we’re going to do things,” Lee said. “We’re open and doing business and getting back into the swing of things.”

Marie Gregory waited her turn Tuesday morning for a chance to experience a sense of normalcy.

“Oh gosh, I can’t wait,” said Gregory. “It’s wonderful. It’s been crazy and been like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Not being able to be with family and friends, it’s been awful.”

In the barber's chair

Biff Graham opened Bearded Goose last January and just started developing a clientele base when COVID-19 threw a wrench in small businesses. Graham experienced eight weeks of no pay as his bills kept coming due. Community support helped make up some of the deficit through memorabilia sales, but the coronavirus forced Graham into a situation he hadn’t experienced since high school.

“I’m 42 years old, I did 20 years in the military and this is first time since I was 14 where I didn’t have a job,” Graham said. “It’s mental. It really is. You can’t go to work and do what you love to do. I’m very fortunate in that I get to do what I love to do, but that was taken away for eight weeks. It was tough. It’s a mental issue in that you have to get over that block.”

Bearded Goose reopened this week with appointments only and following a complete cleaning inside. Graham said businesses like his should’ve had the chance to implement their own safety precautions weeks ago and the public given the choice of whether to go out or not.

“I think we could have,” Graham said of opening with safety practices in place. “If there is an issue and you’re worried about it, it’s your choice. If you feel comfortable walking into the barbershop to get your haircut, get your haircut. If you don’t, please stay at home. I think it should’ve been that way for everything. That’s just me, personally. You can’t find a parking spot at Lowe’s. Every day it’s packed since this started. It doesn’t make sense to me.”

Graham supplied masks to his barbers and made them available to customers who prefer to wear one. He also said staff would put on a mask while cutting hair if the client asked them to. Bearded Goose quickly filled up for the next two weeks and Graham understands the difficulty in requiring appointments, particularly to working men with uncertain schedules.

“We’re doing well,” said Graham. “For us, it hasn’t really changed. We’ve always done sanitation. The only thing that hurts us is that a lot of guys like to walk in. That’s the tough part. We’re booked out for the next two weeks. It’s a good problem to have. We would have no issues whatsoever if someone asked us to wear a mask.”

Barber Corban Ehmke welcomed appointments only for the time being as staff worked to catch up on the backlog of shaggy-headed clients. Being able to cut hair again, Ehmke said, was the important thing.

“I’m pretty happy about it,” Ehmke said. “I’ve been bored. I haven’t been able to do anything. I haven’t been able to work. I’m glad we’re doing appointments to help ease the stress. I’m glad we’re finally back up and running, and I’m thankful for our clients coming out and supporting us.”

Nothing about 2020 resembled anything typical so far. Local businesses starting the reopening process hope that the rest of the year can slowly get back to normal.

Eliot Duke can be reached at eduke@mydailyrecord.com or at 910-230-2038.

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