'Happy just to break even:' Barbers, retailers reopen in Saskatchewan

REGINA — Barber Jason Zalusky would like to shake hands before he cuts hair, but he can't.

He'd also like to offer clients something to drink, but that's out of the question.

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What customers are greeted with when they enter his shop in Regina, besides the buzz of razors and a friendly hello from the shop floor, is a request to use the hand sanitizer near the entrance — all part of doing business during the COVID-19 health crisis.

"The mask is tough," the owner of Bluecore Barber Company said Tuesday as he worked on a client seated in a chair, which had sat empty since March.

Getting used to cutting hair wearing a surgical mask, glasses with side shields, and an apron are part of what the job now requires for Zalusky and his staff.

They were allowed to go back to work under the latest phase of Saskatchewan's schedule for loosening public-health restrictions.

As of Tuesday, Saskatchewan reported seven new cases of COVID-19 for a total of almost 600.

Premier Scott Moe also said the government would start to look at when it might lift more restrictions to allow businesses such as restaurants, gyms and nail salons to potentially open sometime in June.

He said the province will wait at least two to four weeks to see what happens with test results after the latest reopenings, as well as to give affected businesses time to prepare.

Zalusky's barber chairs were full within the first hour of opening, and the next two weeks are booked solid for appointments.

He isn't asking his customers to wear masks, which none were on Tuesday morning, although he'd like to be able to supply them to anyone who wants to, but can't afford the cost.

"I’ll be happy just to break even and keep the doors open at this point."

For him, the cost of doing business during the pandemic means increasing service times from 30 to 45 minutes to account for more stringent disinfection of gear, chairs and countertops. There's also more changing of capes, which creates more laundry.

More hand-washing is part of the job and, to be safe, Zalusky has taken straight razoring off his list of services.

With the new cleaning regime, the shop will do about 60 per cent of the business it normally would, he said.

"There's a lot more work definitely for a lot less pay ... I don’t think it’s going to benefit many of us being open, but people are ready and they want it.

"We're opening for the people more than anything."

Across the hall in the same building, staff were cleaning windows on the doors of Don's Photo to prepare for reopening. Nearby, a consignment shop was ready to allow customers in, but was going to ask them to wear masks.

Retail businesses, including markets and malls, also had the go-ahead Tuesday to open their doors. But shoppers eager to return to the Cornwall Centre mall in downtown Regina found food courts still closed and stores with reduced hours. There were also instructions in individual shops that discouraged customers from trying on clothing.

Back in Zalusky's barber shop, customer Kirk Lariviere said he views getting a much-needed haircut as more essential than hitting the golf course or booking a campground, which have recently been allowed again.

"I want to make sure that it’s all kind of, for lack of a better word, dead and gone before I start going out with my family," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2020

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