Barber shops are province’s economic bellwether as regions’ lockdowns ease

by | Feb 19, 2021 | Headlines, News

Ontario’s lifting of COVID restriction can’t come sooner for struggling barbershops and the accompanying scruffy impatient heads of hair.

“I can’t tell you how stressful it is to put everything into an establishment just to have to sit idly as these big corporations continue business as usual,” said Tony Costa, owner of Tony’s Barbershop on Avenue Road in North York.

Premier Doug Ford commenced the gradual reopening of non-essential businesses in Ontario last week. Toronto, York, and Peel will be the last to reopen, set for Mar. 9. Hairstylists must keep their head above water for two more weeks in those regions — days many small businesses frankly can’t afford.

In a survey carried out by Beauty United Canada, 47 per cent of respondents anticipated losing their business before 2021 began. Responses consisted of 55 Ontario organizations between May 10 and July 17.

There are 3,500 spas and salons across Ontario. Beauty United forecasts 20 per cent of them will not survive the lockdowns.

“It’s just been tough,” Costa said following a brief pause to think. “For both my barbershop and my family.”

Costa believes there lacks sufficient support for not only the beauty industry but small businesses as a whole. He calls hypocrisy on storefronts such as massage therapists being deemed essential while hairstylists were forced to twiddle their thumbs.

“It’s not all about the money too, it’s about everything, the whole purpose in going to work, getting up in the morning, seeing people,” Costa said.

While he’s relieved to soon have clients in his barber chair again, he’s hesitant to get too comfortable. He questions how long this grace period will last before everyone is thrown back into the lockdown rotation.

Health officials feel that now isn’t the right time to open the economy. Three variants are now in Ontario and lifting lockdown could only accelerate their spreads, which is predicted to push the province closer to a third wave.

Model data by Scarsin Corporation suggests Ontario could see upward of 4,000 cases daily by April, in large part due to more daunting transmissible variants and opening of high case count areas. Dr. Adalstienn Brown told reporters the numbers between 5,000 to 6,000 cases daily by March because of the variants.

Dr. Eillen de Villa, Toronto’s Chief Medical Officer, said Wednesday the lockdown in Toronto should be extended by another two weeks. The call was echoed by Peel’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence C. Loh. He had also sent a letter to his counterparts urging the restrictions be extended into March.

But the economic pressures the lockdowns pose are too much for some.

“Most of the businesses within our network are at a point where they literally have no other choice but to defy. They’re looking down the barrel of bankruptcy,” said Samantha Flatman, program manager for We Are All Essential, an anti-lockdown group.

Flatman describes the We Are All Essential website as a hub offering legal advice, rights awareness and a voice most of all for small businesses.

A long-running distrust of the government’s support created an absence of consolement in Ford’s announcement. These businesses are past abiding by lockdown restrictions and scour for loopholes to operate, demonstrating an unfeasibility within lockdown mandates.

“It’s a matter of survival at this point,” Flatman said.

“We’re looking at almost a quarter of a million businesses in Canada going under by the spring and with that, almost three million jobs,” she said.

Many lives and deaths hang in the balance during this pandemic, the death of the economy and population are only two of the many.

“Scheduling a haircut was the first thing I did when I heard the announcement, I was pretty close to giving myself a buzz cut,” said Marc Pico, a regular customer of Ernie’s Barbershop on Davenport.

Pico was accustomed to getting haircuts bi-weekly, a large contrast to now.

“I knew it was bad when my sideburns were tickling my ears,” added Pico.

Barbershops not being deemed essential is a human disservice in his eyes.

Essential establishments are defined as vital services required for health, public safety, preserving life, and basic societal functioning.

“Where’s the definition for essential? It’s absolutely absurd to say that anyone is not essential when it comes to putting food on their kids’ table,” Flatman said.