Niagara has started to show the early signs of reopening as the province entered its first step of its reopening plan Friday. Patios were bustling over the weekend and shoppers lined up outside non-essential retail stores that, with restrictions in place, were once again allowed to open for in-store shopping.
Not all businesses are allowed to reopen in Step 1, and some small business owners are feeling left out. With a move to Step 2 not expected until July 2, salons and hairstylists are having to deal with the aftermath of being deemed non-essential.
Shawn Rahbarian is the owner of Hypnotic Hair Lounge on Niagara Stone Road in Virgil. Rahbarian got his start as a 14-year-old growing up in Iran and has continued to work in the industry for more than 30 years.
Rahbarian said when the pandemic struck, he hoped it would pass quickly, adding he found pleasure in taking some time off. Upon his initial return to work however, he saw a 40 per cent decrease in business.
As a result of restrictions, Rahbarian had to reduce the number of stalls in his salon by half, operating with only five to maintain physical distancing.
He said he found subsequent reopenings to be relatively fruitless, due to the short periods of time in which he could operate his salon, for a reduced number of customers.
He said his clients are like family. In some cases, he now does the hair of the next generation of his long-term clients. He's turned down requests to cut people's hair at their homes in order to follow the law, but ultimately, he has lost clients, even those that he expected to be life-long customers.
“We are in a business that when people come in, they go out happy,” he said. “If you want to keep that happiness in people and not force them into depression, then businesses like us, we need to be open.”
“I think this is actually more important for people's mental health,” Rahbarian said. “Getting a haircut, it's not about a job interview, it's about you getting up in the morning and looking at yourself and saying OK, hey, I look good. I can do another day.”
Jennifer Petrie is the owner and lead stylist of Simply Stunning, a bridal-focused hair and make up company she started in 2015. In her first year of business, she did 10 weddings and saw growth with every coming year. In 2020, she was scheduled to do 85 weddings, but due to COVID-19 lockdowns and subsequent client cancellations, she did a total of five. In 2021, she has yet to do any.
She said that she has occupied her free time with her two children at home, but since her business was not considered essential and due to lockdowns, she is unable to find daycare for her children and worries about her ability to get back to work.
“I'm literally starting from scratch again and my business was just getting to the point where I could take a step back and have my employees do the weddings,” Petrie said.
She said lockdowns after short opening periods brought her “back to square one,” and that she is not far from the point of deciding to close her business down.
As a result of lockdowns, she has lost clients and employees.
She said that being there for brides and helping them on wedding day is what she “thrives on,” and although she is excited to return to that, she is hesitant to reopen and fears having to close down again soon after.
Moosa Imran, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News