From virtual trims to 'black market' salons, hairdressers face unique pandemic problems

As certain parts of Montreal’s economy begin to reopen, one small sector has been waiting for its own news: hair salons. And while reopening will bring new uncertainty, hairdressers also say the current moment has been pretty strange. 

They have been having a unique experience during the pandemic—barbers' and hairdressers' relationships with their clients are not like any other business, and when they reopen, they’ll have to take special measures, too.

As Fernando Marcantonio’s clients have tried to make do at home over the past two months, he has taken pity on them. He’s been giving free real-time advice over FaceTime while they cut their own hair.

“I'm working with a lot of people who basically don’t have the tools I have, so I'm working with what you have in your drawer,” said Marcantonio, who works at L’Atelier Gents barbershop in NDG.

“It's created an amazing experience for myself and for the people involved.”

Salons haven’t all been completely out of work during this time. At Valerie Meade’s salon in Point-Claire, Salon M Toi, a bit of e-commerce and curbside pickup has continued. But overall, business has ground to a halt.

“It's a big shock,” Meade says.

When her shop does reopen, it will have to be reconfigured and won’t be operating at full capacity.

“There's a lot of factors you have to consider” when trying to limit infection, she says. “The age of the customers, how many come in, the employees… we know we can't have too many people in the salon at the same time. For sure we're going to ease down on the bookings.”

Hairdressers who are playing by the rules are also aware that some aren’t. Meade says she’s seen social media posts of hairdressers offering in-person services.

“It's more of the black market, the underground hairdressers, that are working from home,” who are doing that, she says.

“So they put out there that they're…people can come and visit them. They put their work on Facebook and Instagram.”

The Quebec Hairdressing Association says it’s not very easy to track those businesses—one more worry at an already stressful time.

“We’re going to have a lot more expenses than before, fewer clients, less revenue,” says Stephane Roy of the association. “The economic aspect of all this is worrying.”

Once they know their reopening date, hairdressers say, they can begin to figure out how to try to move forward.

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