The extension of Ontario’s state of emergency “is like a kick in the gut” for some barbershop and salon owners already at risk of financial ruin.
On Tuesday, the province pushed its emergency orders, originally set to end June 9, until the end of the month.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford then said on Wednesday that the extension “wouldn’t stop” the province from entering stage two of its reopening plan.
However, Ford was not clear if salons and barbershops will be allowed to reopen during the next phase. “I get it, look at my hair, I look like a sheepdog right now,” Ford said.
Premier Ford said on Friday that he agrees it doesn’t make sense that people can go to the dentist or get a massage but not a haircut.
Eddie Mota is the owner of HeadQuarters Salon and Barber Shop and the Wired Owl Coffee Company in downtown Barrie.
Mota says the uncertainty has made it very difficult.
“It’s frustrating for us, as we still have bills to pay, rent to pay,” Mota said. “The expenses don’t go away because we are closed,” he added.
Mota’s landlord “has been great” during the pandemic and is applying for the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program.
The CECRA requires landlords to reduce rent by at least 75 per cent, forego rent profit for April, May and June and place a moratorium on evictions for three months.
“In reality, everyone who owns a barbershop or salon is in jeopardy of financial ruin if things don’t improve,” Mota said.
Daniel and Sabrina Di Tommaso own the Vintage Throne Barber Lounge in downtown Barrie and like many other small business owners, the couple feels stuck.
“We’re paying rent at two spots, but we haven’t been making money for four months now, we’re definitely going to feel it next month,” Sabrina said.
“We used to be franchise owners in a big commercial space, I can’t imagine what would have happened if we still paid $12,000 in rent.”
The husband and wife team was set to open a second location at Yonge Street and Big Bay Point Road when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“We had a soft opening scheduled for April 1, so yes, it’s been a struggle,” Sabrina said. “It’s double the size of our downtown lounge,” she added.
While unsure if either landlord will apply for the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program, Daniel said so far they’ve been able to work out deals with both landlords.
But he said it’s tough. “We know barbers, hairdressers, salon owners and other artists who have had to close, and it’s tough, these are our friends.”
The couple also recognizes that Ontario is in a unique position and can learn from other jurisdictions where barbershops and salons have already been permitted to open.
“It’s different in every province and in every state, so when things finally open here, hopefully, we will better understand what we need to safely and affordably open,” Daniel said.
Hair salons and barbershops were chosen as part of the first group of businesses to reopen in Alberta because unlike other personal service providers, stylists receive provincially regulated infection prevention and control training.
“We get that same kind of training and have those same inspections, clients may not notice all of the safety precautions we take, but it’s stringent here in Ontario, too,” Daniel said.
B.C.’s hairdressers reopened in mid-March, with customers and staff mandated to use non-medical masks and barriers such as plexiglass shields.
“We don’t know what to order – plexiglass, more face masks – everything is different province by province,” Sabrina said.
Hair salons in B.C. must also post signs about how to access services if sick, and ask customers about possible symptoms before providing a service.
“As a society, we have a self-governing responsibility to stay home if we are sick, and as business owners, we need to have the guts to refuse service,” Sabrina said.
“We should always know when someone sick walks into our salon, we were taught what signs to look for,” Daniel added.
“The hard part will be when staff get sick, they get paid by commission and may come into work sick because they don’t have a choice,” Daniel said.
“I hope the feds’ promised 10 paid sick days thing is real,” he added.
Prime Minister Trudeau said the federal government would “continue discussions with the provinces without delay on ensuring that as we enter the recovery phase of the pandemic, every worker in Canada who needs it has access to 10 days of paid sick leave a year.”
“It’s a catch-22. Yes we want to reopen, but we want to be at the good end and open in the best way possible,” Sabrina said.
Premier Ford said this week that the province is discussing a stage two reopening of the economy and that he’s now considering reopening the province on a regional basis.
That may be good news for businesses north of the GTA since 80 per cent of Ontario’s COVID-19 cases have been reported in the Toronto-area.
There were just 20 new COVID-19 cases reported this week in Simcoe County and Muskoka. The provincial caseload has been hovering around the 400 mark over the past two weeks.