By Mariandrea Vergel
Barbershops are as much a social hub as they are an economic engine of a community. So as the novel Coronavirus is forcing much of the United States to shelter in place, that tradition is taking a huge blow.
In North Miami, a large Haitian enclave, many businesses have closed including barbershops and beauty salons. Jefferson Noel, Haitian-American published author and founder of the non-profit organization Barbershop Speaks, created the organization in hopes to educate and start conversations around pressing topics within his community.
“Barbershops are not just a place where you get a haircut,” said Noel. “They are a community hub.”
Centered around community, Barbershop Speaks is a workshop designed to visit beauty salons and barbershops across South Florida. In each Barbershop Speaks workshop community leaders, educators and politicians are invited to start a conversation with a group of people, the goal being educating and finding resolution if need be. Now that model is on hold.
“[It] has been difficult to figure out what I should do,” said Noel when thinking of the possibility of bringing his workshops to an online platform. “How do I keep that homey, cozy environment doing it online? I’m still figuring that out.”
Established in 2016, Barbershop Speaks came from the idea of challenging people’s ideas and growing together as a community. But the workshops came to a halt last February due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Although Barbershop Speaks’ workshops could potentially be held online, Noel worries that bringing the workshops to videoconferencing platforms such as ZOOM might not be the safest place for the community.
“There’s a lot of notice going around of people who are racist,” said Noel. “People who are anti-anything good logging into ZOOM meetings just cursing and yelling. So that is something to be wary of, as well as how do I protect the people that are on here.”
Albeit the guests invited to the workshops are often politicians and educators, Noel reassures that the most important part of the discussions are the audience sharing their thoughts and ideas.
With a 728k workforce, the Barbershop industry was estimated to grow 1.1% on a 10-year projection, according to Data USA. The industry saw a 17.7% increase rate from 2017 to 2018, however it is not known if this growth will continue after the impact faced due to COVID-19.
Michael Stevens, owner of TOPPCUTTAZ barber salon, is one of the many business owners who hosted Barbershop Speaks at his establishment. Stevens believes that these workshops serve the community by making their voices be heard specially on diverse topics that are of importance to the African-American community as well. “If you’re from Miami you should be culturally diverse,” he said.
The workshops are not only a platform for members of the community to connect with leaders and politicians, but as a result they are also a way for business owners to be introduced to new clients.
“Everyone is a potential client,” said Stevens. “A lot of people I don’t think have ever seen a shop like this one.”
TOPPCUTTAZ closed its doors on March 19th, which left no room for workshops such as Barbershop Speaks to take place and potentially lure a new clientele. Most importantly, it left small business owners such as Stevens with uncertainty. “To get back in business is gonna cost money,” he said. “The people who don’t have money to buy PPE that’s just another expense that we never had. Personal Protective Equipment is a new reality.”
Stevens, who also owns a second barber salon in North Miami, hopes to re-open both of his businesses on Wednesday. In the mean time he is dedicated to making the necessary modifications to both shops in order to be able to operate. Between his two businesses Stevens claims he has lost approximately $60,000.
Stevens has already applied and received a small SBA loan, but he assures the aid is not enough compared to the nearly three months they have been out of business. He also claims that the little money he received does not take into account the money he owes on rent and the remodeling costs that will have to take place for the business to be able to operate with the health guidelines necessary to keep his clients and employees safe.
“You can’t operate like that and not be taking in any cash,” said Stevens. “I’m gonna face financial ruin because you [the government] told me to close.”