Pandemic or no pandemic, Miamians want to look good, compelling some to take matters into their own hands when it comes to hair color, braids and edge-ups. The results aren’t always what they hope for.
North Miami resident Jalen Brown, 26, has been searching for an open barbershop after unsuccessfully attempting a trim last week.
“I was on YouTube learning how to do my tape, but I messed up so bad I went bald,” he said with a laugh. “I need to see a professional.”
Like many businesses in Miami-Dade County, barbershops and salons were forced to shut their doors in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The closure was rescinded after nearly two months on May 18, but that hardly signaled the end of troubling times.
Black communities have suffered the most during COVID-19, with higher infection and mortality rates than those of other races. Small business owners are suffering disproportionate financial losses as well.
Salons and barbershops are staples in the Black community. They’re places to share neighborhood stories, swap gossip and discuss the latest headlines. But with social distancing, it’s hard for shop owners to keep that vibe alive, even after reopening for business.
Black Kutz, a small shop located at 1119 NW Third Ave. in Overtown, is owned by Miami native Cory Mitchum and a silent partner, cardiologist Bernard Ashby, M.D. They are struggling to keep their 7-year-old business afloat.
Mitchum graduated from the Margate School of Beauty in the early 2000s. He says he got into cutting hair to give back to the neighborhood.
“I want to provide service to a community that’s in need,” he said.
The shop reopened the first week of June and is operating by appointment only.
“Business has dropped by like 90%,” said Mitchum.
Ashby has a background in public health and has helped keep the shop up to COVID-19 safety standards. Measures include checking temperatures, making sure everyone is wearing a mask, social distancing and disinfecting tools.
Prior to the pandemic, the environment at Kutz was lively, with clients coming and going throughout the day.
“Before it was a lot more casual, people came out and relaxed,” said Ashby.
That’s no longer the case.
“A collateral effect of the pandemic is the closure of the clubs, the entertainment venues and the schools that were the main reasons people got a haircut,” said Ashby.
Kutz barbers had to be furloughed. Mitchum is cutting hair by himself after being denied a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan.
“I had to let all my employees go,” he said. “It’s just me now.”
The shop went from more than 50 haircuts per day to just 15 to 30 customers.
“Economically, people have been hurt and haircuts aren’t in their budget,” said Ashby. “[Cory’s] been giving out free haircuts to those in need.”
And there’s no telling when the pandemic will end.
“There’s nothing we can do at this point.” said Ashby.
A salon that implemented social distancing practices long before COVID-19 is Visible Results by Abby, located at 12245 SW 112th St. in Kendall. It’s owned by Trinidadian-born Abena Isaac, more commonly known as Abby.
Isaac attended Beauty Schools of America in North Miami Beach and received her license in 2010. After working at Glow Salon on 127th Avenue for four years, she opened up her own space in 2014. Her specialties include dreadlocks, hair dying, extensions and natural hairstyles.
“As a child, I was always messing with people’s hair at school, including the teachers,” said Isaac.
Prior to the pandemic, she maintained a full schedule and worked solo.
“I always had one client in a room, for privacy reasons,” said Isaac. “Whatever personal problems [someone is] dealing with, it doesn’t have to be announced to everyone.”
Very few of Isaac’s protocols have changed, though she now wears a mask and requires clients to do the same. When she reopened her salon in May, her clientele quickly returned.
“I sanitize everything all the time, and I do not have a client sitting on the same chair after another client leaves,” said Isaac. “I’m always cleaning, I’ve been doing that. Once clients felt comfortable going outside, they felt comfortable coming back to my salon masked because they knew it would just be masked me and masked them.”
What has changed is her scheduling. Before the pandemic, Isaac would seat an average of three to five people a day; she’s currently seating one to three. Her regular clients now receive 50% discounts on her services.
“I told clients of a long time, regulars, ‘You can come out, get your hair done, we can handle your payment afterward,’” she said.
Isaac plans on continuing her high-intensity cleaning regimen and keeping her one-client-at-a-time model to ensure privacy and social distancing. She’s hopeful that in the near future, it’ll be back to business as usual.
“Sometimes,” she said, “I’d be booked all day.”
Perhaps those times are nearer than Isaac thinks. With her, Mitchum and other shop owners like them working hard to maintain safe, sanitized spaces, potential clients like Brown can once again find comfort in getting their hair done by a professional.
“I won’t be patchy,” Brown said. “And I won’t get COVID.”