Last year Jesus Diaz started saving hoping to buy a house. By early March, with much sacrifice, he had managed to put away $15,000 and was hoping to double that amount by year’s end.
But the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced the closure of his business twice this year, has evaporated those savings.
“Those funds are completely gone,” says the 46-year-old, co-owner with his father, Jose Diaz, of J & J Barbershop at the corner of Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Osborne Street in Pacoima.
“I haven’t been able to put a cent away,” he adds.
On Monday July 14, Governor Gavin Newsom ordered the renewed closure of thousands of indoor service businesses, including hair and nail salons, barbershops, gyms and places of worship in an effort to contain a surging number of COVID-19 cases in California.
The announcement came just a month and a half after these businesses were allowed to reopen after a nearly three month previous closure from mid-March through late May. That initial stoppage really hurt J & J Barbershop. Just the monthly rent is $3,000, plus other bills. His dad puts the losses to the business at somewhere around $20,000 and has started the process to get a loan.
While the business had not picked up to pre-pandemic levels, at least there was money coming in, but uncertainty set in once again when Diaz saw the news on TV July 14 announce the renewed closures while he was in a restaurant celebrating one of his son’s 21st birthday.
After the announcement, “we finished the day and we closed on Tuesday (July 15),” says Diaz, who understands the reasoning behind the order but still finds it “unfair,” noting that he and the rest of the beauty industry has implemented strict safety measures while he says supermarkets and large retailers are more lax with their precautions.
At J & J Barbershop Diaz checked the temperature of every incoming client, made them sanitize their hands after and were required to keep a mask on at all times. There were no magazines around and everyone had to stay six feet apart. Customers also had to write their name and phone number in a logbook.
“That way, in case one of us the barbers or clients tests positive, I have to call everyone and tell them to go get checked (tested),” explains Diaz.
He also made sure to sanitize tools, chairs and other implements after each customer.
“We’re very clean,” he says and notes that the beauty industry has one of the most stringent rules for keeping their place of business safe.
That’s why he finds it illogical and confusing that other industries remain open.
“They’re very lenient with certain industries and very hard with others,” he complains.
Besides putting a temporary end to his dreams of a home, Diaz has to contend with the bills that don’t wait. His car payment and insurance amount to $750 and the vehicle is just sitting in the driveway. Then there’s health and life insurance and obviously rent, plus he’s a single dad of two.
To make ends meet, Diaz took on house calls during the first closure.
“I took care of the very closest family members and a few clients,” he admits.
He took temperatures of everyone before doing their hair and the services were offered outside. He also did not cut the hair of any young kids or older people.
Others in the beauty industry believe outdoor services are the way to go in the meantime, given the spread of the virus.
On Thursday July 16, the Professional Beauty Federation of California and Fresno Republican Assemblymember Jim Patterson sent a letter (https://bit.ly/3jiUx59) to Governor Newsom asking for an exception to the closure order allowing them to offer their services in patios, parking lots and on the sidewalks in front of their business, similar to the way restaurants are being allowed to operate.
“Many small business owners statewide are asking for the opportunity to recoup devastating losses incurred by retrofitting salons and lost revenue due to the previous shutdown, while at the same time continuing to provide important services to Californians. This option may not work for all businesses in all locations, but in the spirit of localism and not stipulating a one-size-fits-all approach, adding the beauty and barbering industry to the established list of businesses that can operate outdoors is a reasonable step to ensuring their survival.
On Monday July 20, Governor Newsom announced he would grant this exception.
Diaz says their business will not be offering outside services.
He notes that might work for some hair salons and barbershops, but contends that would be difficult in the San Fernando Valley, where temperatures can reach over 100 degrees in the middle of summer and early autumn.
“The Valley is freaking hot, we need A/C (air conditioning),” he says, adding that they also have special lighting to help them cut hair and “if someone sneezes, the wind still carries that.”
“You will be safer in my shop than any store,” he adds.
For him, the best way to do things is if everybody followed the mask-wearing rules, social distancing and every business checked customers’ temperatures before letting them inside.
That way, businesses would be allowed to stay open, he believes.
“If we’re opening and we’re doing it [by being] educated and taking all the precautions we can, we should be opened,” he emphasizes.
Having the barbershop closed for so long could be devastating.
“I’ve heard it could be six to eight weeks at least to flatten the curve. That’s half a year (when combined with the previous closure). There’s no one who can go on with halting everything that long,” he says.
And he worries more closures could happen in the future that can devastate small businesses like his.
“I’m barely surviving. I thought we were already in the green, but I can see this happening again. This opening then closing, it’s a trial and error,” he said.