If you call the Main Street Barber Shop in Kennebunk, Maine, to schedule an appointment, you’ll be cheerily greeted by the owner ... of a nearby coffee shop?
With so many people eager to get a proper trim after weeks without grooming, Danielle Sharp, who runs The Blue coffeehouse, was enlisted this week to field the onslaught of booking inquiries coming in to the neighboring business now that some of the state’s coronavirus restrictions have been lifted. This way, she said, the barbers can focus on keeping the shop sanitized while they meet the demand.
“The phone has been ringing off the hook,” said Sharp, who noted that some of the barbers are already booked up through May 11. “Six weeks is a long time for men to not have a haircut, I guess.”
Salons and barbershops across Maine started to welcome back their customers Friday after Governor Janet Mills earlier in the week announced a staggered approach to reopening the state’s economy. In what’s being called Stage 1, businesses that provide “hair services,” along with car washes, golf courses, and a few others, were permitted to reopen as long as they took appropriate precautions.
The easements came as the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced two new coronavirus-related deaths and 28 new cases of the virus on Friday. If no new coronavirus outbreaks emerge, Stage 2 will commence in June, officials have said.
Part of the checklist of rules for business owners in the beauty and grooming industry includes scheduling appointments far enough apart so there’s ample time for workers to sanitize work stations; putting up signs to let customers know that anyone with COVID-19 symptoms will not be served; asking clients a litany of questions about their health condition prior to booking; and having workers wear face shields (or goggles), gloves, and masks.
The state is also asking shops to practice social-distancing guidelines by having clients either wait 6 feet apart outside or in their cars until it’s time for a haircut. The full list of safety measures can be found on the state’s website.
Ann Fouquette, owner of Kilroy’s Haircutters in Brunswick, said following the rules to a T was “terrible” on the first day — especially disinfecting and cleaning between customers and dealing with having to cut around the masks customers are required to wear.
“I do not like it," she said, laughing. “It’s learning for everyone.”
But after having no income for weeks on end as the coronavirus brought the industry and everything else around it to a complete standstill, she is happy just to be working again. And her clientele seem pleased that she is back in action.
Before noon on Friday, Fouquette said she had already given 13 haircuts. Outside of her store, 15 people waited patiently in their cars for their turn in the chair.
“Everyone wants haircuts,” she said. “I’m extremely busy.”
At Black Door Barber Company in Portland, owner Curran Candage hurried a reporter off of the phone Friday.
“We are steadily, gradually transitioning into a safe way to be back at work,” he said. “I am about to take a client right now. I can’t really talk.”
At the Rusty Razor Barber Shop in Kittery, business was similarly booming, as a queue of people sat outside in their vehicles while barbers gave haircuts to masked customers in chairs.
“We are currently booked all the way until Tuesday,” said Brittany Horst, co-owner of the shop. “It’s like everyone waited. They didn’t do self-haircuts this whole time.”
The Rusty Razor has been diligently trying to follow the rules laid out by state officials on its first day. There’s tape on the floor to indicate 6 feet of separation, tools are being “over sanitized,” customers are wearing masks, and no faces are being shaved.
They have even gone as far as locking the front doors so customers don’t accidentally come in to try and snag an open slot. All appointments, Horst said, are being made by phone.
“It’s going to keep our numbers in the shop under control,” she said.
The reopening in Maine has drawn interest from points south.
“We’re getting calls from [Massachusetts] people because they want to come here,” said a woman who answered the phone at South Portland’s Jonathan Douglas Salon and Relaxation Studio but declined to give her name. “They want to get their hair done.”
But the salon is opening starting with their own clients. If you’ve never been there before, they won’t take you.
As some shops celebrate the surge in business after longing to reopen, others seem to be taking a more cautious approach.
Jennifer Jaye Leigh, owner of 02 Salon in Portland, said she was waiting until at least mid-May to resume operations, “because we think the governor may have acted a little on the side of business and not health and safety.”
Shelby Rossignol, owner of Brunswick-based Rossignol’s Hair Shoppe, said she’s taking her time to make the safest choice for clients and their families, even as her phone has been “ringing off the hooks” with people hoping to get a trim.
“It’s really a big trust thing right now, and as much as I want to trust everybody, you just don’t know” who is sick, she said. “You can’t social distance when you do this job."
She said she didn’t agree with Mills’s assessment that barbershops could reopen when other services wouldn’t follow suit until much later.
Early this week, Mills said while the plan “presents a path forward for gradually and safely restarting our economy, it should not lure Maine people into thinking that this pandemic is almost over.”
Still, Rossignol said it was a poor judgment call to allow haircuts this early.
“It’s almost like we are guinea pigs, I hate to say it," she said. "I feel like we were put in the wrong category.”
The Blind Pig Barber Company in Portland was also closed Friday. A note on the company’s Facebook page said they know customers are “eager to get back to your normal grooming routines,” but “we are working hard to be sure that we are not only opening but opening the right way.”
Meanwhile, back at Main Street Barber Shop in Kennebunk, there were “people everywhere" — and they are past due for a little bit off the top.
“Everybody is in their cars lined up and down the street,” said Sharp, the coffee shop owner helping take calls. “Everybody is looking a little haggard; a little bushy.”
Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.