HAMPTON, N.H. — Getting a haircut is still a big deal for a lot of Americans.
When COVID-19 hit last year, salon owner Shelly Abro knew the rebounding from the pandemic was not going to be easy, which is why this life-long entrepreneur knew she had to get creative.
Having lost 30% 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 in Hampton, New Hampshire.
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 the 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.
That was back in the summer of 2020.
Almost a year later, there's still a lot of demand for those outdoor haircuts. The only problem is, Shelly hasn't been feeling like herself lately.
"I wanted to do my outdoor barbershop, but I needed to wait until I got my energy back," the 48-year-old explained.
In the middle of the pandemic, worried about COVID-19, Shelly was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Like so many other Americans, this small business owner has had no other choice but to show up for work every day. She can't get her COVID-19 vaccine because of the chemo, but she also can't stop working.
"My immune system is junk. It's all been anxious for all of us, but what are you going to do? You can’t just lock yourself in the house," she added.
Nearly 15 months into this pandemic, there are still clients at Gents Barbershop getting their first post-quarantine cuts. And Shelly gets it.
With a compromised immune system, she understands why some people are still afraid to leave the house.
Many states, including New Hampshire where Gents Barbershop is located, have dropped their mask mandates, potentially putting workers like Shelly at risk.
"I don’t go anywhere. I still haven’t eaten inside a restaurant. I’m just very careful," Shelly added.
Without those outdoor haircuts, Shelly is doing what she can to accommodate her customers. Often, she'll stay until 7 or 8 o'clock at night to meet families so they can come into the shop alone. Stylists there often schedule a few extra minutes with clients who they know are still trying to limit interactions with other people because of the virus.
"It’s not good for them to be isolated," she said.
Like a good haircut, Shelly Albro is ready for COVID-19 to fade away, but until then, she'll be there to give her customers much more than a cut.