Reopening businesses in a pandemic will be challenging

Reopening businesses in a pandemic will be challenging

New health guidelines will mean doing things differently for many businesses

A Red Deer barbershop owner can’t wait to reopen his doors on May 14.

But cutting hair in a pandemic promises a host of logistical challenges that mean it will not be business as usual, says Jason Volk, Red Deer’s Tommy Gun’s Original Barbershop franchisee.

“I support opening on May 14. Obviously, from a sheer business perspective, this has been absolutely devastating to be completely shut down for weeks on end.

“I really think there are many parts of the country and parts of Alberta, like Red Deer, where the COVID cases are so miniscule that we really need to put the economy back into motion.”

Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce CEO Rick More said Premer Jason Kenney’s announcement of a staged reopening of the economy “feels like the weight is being lifted.”

However, he sounded a note of caution.

“This will be a very crucial time to get this right,” said More. “Business cannot afford any relapses.”

More said both businesses and their customers must exercise “stringent controls” to ensure the staged opening proceeds as planned.

The 60 barbers and other staff at Red Deer’s three Tommy Gun’s locations, and another 50 staff at Safari Spa and Salon, which Volk also owns, are reportedly all ready to return to work.

Most of Volk’s employees are young women in their 20s, some with children to support, who rely on their jobs and the tips that provide a daily cash flow.

Being allowed to open is one thing, but under what conditions remains unclear.

“I’m waiting to see more details as it relates to PPE (personal protective equipment) and the various requirements we’ve seen. We’ve seen what Manitoba and Saskatchewan are doing,” said Volk.

“Of course, our goal is to keep our clients and staff safe. With that, there are a lot of things we’re scrambling to put together.”

Volk and the owners of dozens of other barber shops and hairstyling salons in central Alberta will have plenty to think about as they prepare to reopen.

For instance, will the government require all towels and haircutting capes to be changed for each customer?

With 150 customers passing through each Tommy Gun’s location daily, that would mean buying hundreds of capes and finding a way to launder them.

Tommy Gun’s chairs are a shade under two metres apart. If two metres separation is the standard, will he have to close every other seat?

Volk is estimating that meeting government health guidelines could cost $2 to $3 per customer.

“That’s our entire (profit) margin. Eventually, we’d be running a non-profitable business.”

Safari Spa, which offers everything from facials, manicures, pedicures and hairstyling, to body wraps and polishes and massages, poses unique challenges.

The hairstyling part of the business can open on May 14. But cosmetic, esthetic and body treatments, as well as personal services, such as tanning, are relegated to stage two of the government’s reopening strategy.

The timing of stage two will be determined by the success of stage one.

Volk could be faced with a situation where two-thirds of his 6,000-square-foot spa in Clearview Market will be unused for weeks, maybe months.

Despite the hurdles, Volk is determined to be in the barber business again on May 14.

The stakes are high for many businesses. Many respondents to a Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce survey said they could not survive being completely shut down for three months or more.

The chamber is working with both its provincial and national counterparts to drive policy and develop a strategy to keep the business recovery rolling, said More.

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