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Salons, Barbers & Patrons Hold On For Reopening in Waterbury

Salons, Barbers & Patrons Hold On For Reopening in Waterbury

Waterbury Republican-American, May 7, 2020

By Steve Barlow

It’s hard to say who’s pining more for German Mena to reopen his barber shop on Schraffts Drive in Waterbury: him or his clientele.

Mena closed the doors on G-Mena Elite Barber Shop, which he started two years ago, in mid-March after Gov. Ned Lamont ordered all nonessential businesses to close because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the weeks pass, Mena is anxious to make some money again and his customers, growing shaggier by the day, are desperate to get their hair clipped.

“A lot of people are calling,” Mena said. “One guy offered to pay $200 for a haircut, but I had to say no.”

Lamont last week raised the possibility that certain small businesses, including barbershops and hair salons, might be able to reopen May 20, provided certain criteria are met.

For Mena and others in his field, the day when they can reopen can’t come soon enough.  

“We’re not making any money,” said Mena, who has six other barbers who rent space in his shop. “We’re just waiting to see what happens.”

The timing of this pandemic couldn’t be worse for him. With business booming, Mena last year invested $12,000 into his shop, buying a new shampoo station and a bigger water tank, among other things.

“Almost all my savings went into this,” he said.

Mena, who has a 6-year-old daughter at home, applied for a Paycheck Protection Program loan from the SBA, but the money in the first round of federal funding ran out before he got approval.

He’s still waiting for his $1,200 stimulus check to land in his bank account. The state said it would begin accepting applications for unemployment benefits for self-employed people this week, but by Wednesday afternoon the Department of Labor website was still not processing their applications.

Luckily, Mena said, his creditors and landlord are understanding and have given him time to pay his bills. “Otherwise, I’d have to close down,” he said.

One reason his landlord is sympathetic is because she’s going through the same plight. Anna Cuevas has run Dolce Hair Salon next door to Mena’s shop for 15 years. She also owns a cosmetology school.  

Staff rents space back to top

She has five employees and five others who rent space in her salon. They see anywhere from 65 to 100 customers in a week. Like Mena, she has customers phoning each day.

“One question we’re getting the most is, ‘Can we book now,’ but we don’t know when we’re going to be able to reopen for sure, so we’re not scheduling anybody for now,” Cuevas said last week.

For now, she’s giving them tips on what they can do themselves at home.

While there will be a flurry of business for haircuts and other salon services when they do reopen, Cuevas believes she will never recover the money lost from two months of cancelled appointments.

“They’re not going to come in two or three times to make up for what we’ve lost,” she pointed out.

Alexis Campos has owned AKC Hair & Makeup in Naugatuck for five years. She has two employees and two people who rent space in her salon, which sees an estimated 70 to 80 customers in a week.

“If we don’t go back to work by the end of May, I’m not sure what I’m going to do,” Campos said. “I’m praying it’s the 20th.”

She said she applied for a PPP loan and two other Small Business Administration loans to tide her over, but was turned down. Her stimulus check just arrived, which helps.

“It’s been rough,” said Campos, who has an 8-month-old daughter. “Thank God I’ve got family and they’ve been helping out.”