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Coronavirus

Carroll County barbershops and salons divided over opening to serve essential employees

Jordan Parry and his wife Lorenia Zurita were stuck in a “nightmare,” they said, trying to file for unemployment while unable to run their business at Tu Style Salon & Barbershop in Westminster amid the coronavirus crisis.

Until last week, that is, when Gov. Larry Hogan’s Office of Legal Counsel announced barbershops and salons could be open, by appointment only, for services needed by workers deemed essential employees.

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“Our decision was based off of our income dropping to basically zero,” said Parry, who has run Tu Style since 2014. “We have [about 10] barbers and stylists that depend on us. They’re just sitting there. They have rent, they have mortgages coming in. They’re just at home, and they’re doing the same thing we are. They’re trying to get through, but there’s no help. There was no end in sight.

“So the second they gave the go-ahead to kind of partially open, we went right for it.”

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Whether to open during the coronavirus pandemic is a hot topic in the hair-styling industry. Many shops and salons in and around Carroll County are choosing to remain closed for financial and health reasons, while others have taken to different social media outlets to communicate with potential clients about hours and availability.

Parry said Tu Style posted on its Facebook page and through its Instagram account soon after the state’s ruling, and new appointments came with it.

Zurita said the salon is using one stylist or barber per appointment, in part to keep with social distancing measures.

“It’s good news that we’re able to take appointments, but then we can’t have every barber and stylist working at the same time,” she said. “It’s a bittersweet kind of deal we’ve got going on right now.”

Parry said those essential employees who need a haircut can make an appointment through the shop’s social media accounts, or through the salon’s website.

Tony’s Barbershop of Eldersburg, which has been in the same location since 1979, is remaining closed during this time with hopes of returning once Maryland’s nonessential businesses are allowed to re-open. Ed’s Barber Shop in Union Bridge is doing the same, staying closed until further notice.

HeadMasters Grooming Salon for Men, in downtown Sykesville, said via Facebook its shop is staying closed because of the restrictions that are still in place.

Meanwhile, Hampstead Barber Shop last week let its customers know via Facebook it was taking appointments after being closed for nearly one month. Owner Sue Miller said via Facebook message she has seen new clients making appointments — even some from southern Pennsylvania in neighboring counties — with other shops and salons staying closed. “Just grateful to be back to work,” Miller said.

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Rhoten’s Barber Shop, family owned in Westminster since 1959, started this week with a Facebook message to let people know they were open by one-on-one appointments. “We can’t wait to see each and every one of the you again,” one of the Rhoten’s messages said.

The national Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated in 2018 that 75% of barbers nationwide were self-employed; the bureau also estimates 44% of hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists were self-employed. These barbers and hairdressers have been out of work for more than a month.

A spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Labor told The Sun there were 52,367 barbers and cosmetologists registered in the state. Under the state’s new OLC guidelines, if a customer provides written documentation of those standards, and both the barber and salon staff wore masks and were the only people in the building, the service will be allowed. The assumption, according to the order, was that the exemption would be used “for military personnel, first responders, and other essential workers required to maintain certain, well-documented grooming standards as part of their profession, or where ungroomed hair could pose a safety risk.”

Bryan Combs owns and operates Westminster Barber Shop out of the TownMall of Westminster, but hasn’t been able to get to his chair since March 19, when the mall closed as a result of Gov. Hogan’s COVID-19 mandate.

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Combs said Parry agreed to let him use one of his empty chairs at Tu Style, and Combs can see many of his long-standing clients who qualify as essential employees.

“For me it’s not a whole lot different than it was before. I’ve always worked by appointments,” Combs said. “I’ve known a lot of my clients for 20 or so years … I know Bob’s a cop, I know Joe’s a fireman, I know this guy is in the Army. I’m sure someone that works at Bob Evans, their handbook probably says they need to have a haircut. No beard, that type of thing.”

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Combs said it’s essential to maintain a safe and healthy workplace, and for his industry that means using proper cleaning procedures. Getting his hands on the necessary chemicals and equipment can be a struggle right now, but Combs said he hopes being allowed to work by appointment, for now, is progress.

“It’s hard to get back to normal when you’re used to doing 20 or 30 clients a day as opposed to doing six,” Combs said. “Not every shop I know is open. Once I open my shop back up — not just me, but anyone — then the landlord is going to expect their rent. You can’t pay your rent doing six haircuts a day.”

Parry agreed, and said while business has been good he’s looking forward to getting back to how things used to be at Tu Style.

“We used to be the busiest shop in Carroll County, and now it’s busy but that atmosphere really isn’t here anymore,” he said.

Baltimore Sun writers Jon Meoli and Daniel Oyefusi contributed to this story.


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