The only thing that scares salon owner Shelly Albro more than the empty chairs inside her Portsmouth, New Hampshire barbershop is the silence that has consumed this place recently.
Having lost 30 percent of her business because of COVID-19, Albro found herself in the same position as thousands of other small business owners across the country, desperate for new streams of revenue, while at the same time, having to keep her customers and staff safe.
“I just knew that if I didn’t get creative we weren’t going to make any money,” she said. “Business was down.”
Albro owns Gents Barbershop, which she recently opened.
On a particularly depressing day during the shutdown, she had been searching through old photos when she stumbled upon an old black and white picture from the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. A few barbers stood wearing masks as they cut clients' hair, but instead of cutting hair inside a building, the barbers were standing out on the sidewalk in front of their store.
She had found her solution.
“When I saw this picture I was like, ‘I gotta do this outside!’ For those who are like me who are nervous to go inside,” she said.
Unsure of how the idea would go over with customers, Albro first started cutting hair outside on her days off. Her schedule quickly booked up, as this upbeat stylist with a slight New England accent realized she’d struck a chord with her customers who were still too nervous to get their haircut inside a barbershop during COVID-19.
And for Albro, who suffers from an autoimmune disease herself, the whole thing is personal.
“There are a lot of people who have anxiety about coming inside a building. It doesn’t matter how much we clean or sanitize; they’re feeling anxious about coming inside,” she said. “Because I’m high risk, I get why people are reluctant.”
Gents Barbershop isn't alone in moving hair cutting services outside. Back in July, California moved all salons outdoors to deal with a sudden spike in cases.
Beth Milito with the National Federation of Independent Businesses is telling small business owners to follow Albro’s lead.
“It’s been much more challenging than people anticipated back in March,” Milito explained.
As small business owners continue to navigate an economic recession, Milito says that creativity and ingenuity are keys to a successful rebound, especially when more than 100,000 small businesses have already closed since March.
“Looking at this as a long-term investment, something you can see into the future,” she added.
As for Albro, she knows that like a good haircut this trend may fade away, but for now, she’s just trying to make a much deeper impression.
“I just want to help,” she said.