‘It’s Good to Be Open’: Bunker Hill Barber Shop among First to Re-open

It was Memorial Day – typically a day when the scissors and shears are in the off position – but for many beauty salons and barber shops, it was the first time in months they were allowed to open their doors for business.

At the Bunker Hill Barber Shop on Main Street – holiday or not – the doors opened and owner Pat Owens carefully welcomed some shaggy customers into his shop for the first time since March 23 on a limited basis, and with very strict safeguards in place.

“So far it’s going really good,” he said on Tuesday afternoon, two days into re-opening his business. “It’s very busy. It’s obviously been a lot about trying to adhere to what we’re doing to keep people safe and making people feel comfortable. The appointment system has worked well. It has been working with the elderly to make appointments online that has been harder. I need to find out how to partner with the Golden Age or something to help the elderly customers schedule appointments online. For now, I’m thinking I’ll have one barber designated as walk-ins for seniors. That way they can show up and get in right away.”

More than anything – aside from the restrictions and the masks and the disinfectant – Owens said he was happy.

“I’m just glad I’m open,” he said. “However, our business will be cut in half. We are only allowed to do two appointments an hour. They want you to be able to have enough time to disinfect and clean thoroughly in between appointments. But I’m just glad. Being closed was horrible. I got it at the beginning. I knew we would close, but I didn’t think it was going to be two months.”

Owens said he had a great deal of stress during the closing, like most owners, to be able to support his employees at the shop. Once he was able to qualify for the Paycheck Protection Program, he said, he was more at ease. Certainly, though, he was ready to be back working.

The gladness to return is spreading all over the Town. Last weekend, some churches in Charlestown opened for in-person services, such as First Church in Charlestown. This weekend, most of the Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of Boston will open in careful fashion for services – which falls on Pentecost.

At the shop – which was always a great center of activity in the Town before COVID-19 – there won’t be any hanging out watching sports while waiting for a haircut. There won’t be any long conversations about the Bruins or the PGA Tour. Quite simply, a trip to the barber shop will be about getting a haircut and moving on – much the same as the beauty salons won’t be a place to gather for women.

Ducking in to say ‘hi’ to those working in the barber shop will have to suffice with a wave from outside beyond the glass.

Owens said they are requiring masks for customers and barbers, and barbers have to sanitize their hands before and after the service. Barbers will wear safety glasses, and the chairs will be sanitized frequently – with only one person at a time in the break room.

Instead of a new Red Sox poster on the wall, there will be a big sign saying, ‘If You’re Sick, Don’t Come In.’

Owens – who has not yet been allowed to open his Somerville location due to concerns of Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone – said it is suggested that owners take temperatures of customers, but he isn’t going to do that. Determining if someone is sick is going to be difficult, and business like his are going to rely on customers to be responsible in order to protect those working in the shop from an outbreak.

“The guidance says pretty much that people will have to self-diagnose,” he said. “They suggest taking temperatures, but I’m not going to do that. If I make someone use a thermometer and then ask them to leave, they’ll never come back. If someone comes in with allergies and is sneezing, what do you do? It’s a fine line. At this stage we’re in, if someone isn’t feeling well, you hope they will stay home and protect everyone and get better.”

He said he has also seen a lot of generosity from his customers as things have come back and he prepared to open – such as Ryan Allen, of Ryan Allen Plumbing.

Owens said Allen paid for 30 haircuts ahead of time so families in need could get their hair cut. Owens gifted that to the Boys & Girls Club, which distributed the gifts into the right hands to be used in the coming days.

“I’ve seen some long hair and there’s definitely more sweeping than usual,” said Owens. “I had a good group of people coming by when I was working in here to get ready and wondering when I would come back. So many people were looking forward to coming in. Getting a haircut makes people feel good.”

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