Cautious reopening as lockdown-hit businesses bounce back
AFTER months of enforced closure, home working or emergency appointments, businesses in many of the sectors worst affected by the lockdown have reopened. Trades which rely on close contact with customers have returned over the last month, having had to wait longer than most to reopen. But with new rules, timed appointments, risk assessments and personal protective equipment to manage, a trip to the barber, beautician or even the pub is very different under coronavirus measures.
At PureBarber INC in Fishponds Road, brand new laminated glass screens separate the four barbers' chairs, and the normally-bustling waiting area has a limit of three people at a time.
But life at the salon has been anything but quiet for barbers Fabio Cimmino, his brothers Roberto and Marco, and Tom Jones since they were able to reopen on July 4.
For the first three weeks they were working all day, seven days a week, with a rush of online appointments booked as soon as they announced they were reopening.
Fabio (above) said having relatives in Italy, which came out of lockdown before England, gave him an insight into how things would work, as did advice from a friend who is a council health officer and from National Hair & Beauty Federation, which has been interpreting the changing government advice.
He said: "We had a head start. I was ringing family in Italy to see how they were doing, as they were four weeks ahead of us."
The business had recently been refurbished and Fabio called the shopfitters back in to fit the full-length screens so the four barbers could safely work side by side.
Fabio said: "I think these screens will be up for the long-term, as I believe this situation is going to be here for a while."
The four barbers wear face visors as they work and Fabio has had to buy disposable gowns in bulk, as the guidelines require one for each customer. The barbers also clean chairs and workstations and disinfect equipment between every cut.
Contactless payments are standard and most customers book in advance, either online or by phone. While it is now possible to walk in and book an appointment, anyone who does needs to leave their details to enable tracking and tracing of contacts, should any positive coronavirus case be reported. Details are kept for 21 days and then destroyed.
Fabio said: "We knew we would have a rush at the beginning – we were fully booked for three weeks before we opened.
"Obviously there were a lot of messed-up haircuts coming in but we've dealt with all of them!
"After the initial rush it has calmed down now. Some people have returned to work and have less time, some people are still a bit worried about coming in."
Fabio said he had good feedback on the new measures from customers, with people praising the shop for doing things correctly.
He said: "Remember we're a contact sport, no matter what. We want people to feel safe and confident with us."
The beauty salon
At the Beauty Retreat salon in Stapleton, screens and visors have changed the way beauticians interact with customers – but thorough risk assessments and using "common sense" means all treatments are back on the menu from the start of August, having been amended to be 'covid secure'.
Owner Yasmin Hosseini (above, centre) said: "For businesses such as mine that rely heavily on close contact, it has been difficult to change how we interact with our clients. Not only have we had to amend the way in which we do some treatments, but we have had to also constantly be aware of our actions."
Beauticians have had to stop making the small touches which would be "second nature", such as helping clients put coats on, offering a hot drink, a glass of wine or giving a helping hand.
Yasmin said: "I think the lockdown has made a lot of people realise just how much impact a simple touch has.
"We regard most of our clients as friends, and the most difficult thing we have experienced so far is not being able to hug all of our regulars after not seeing them for so long."
The salon has had to install screens on nail desks, staff are wearing visors during treatments and are limiting the number of close contact face treatments they each perform.
Yasmin said: "We have done a thorough risk assessment and believe we can safely do all of our treatments in a secure, safe and clean way. I do think the government guidelines were confusing and many hairdressers/barbers and salons were unsure of what they could and could not do.
"I think as long as you use common sense and work in a clean and safe way, then there is no reason to stop offering those treatments."
During the lockdown Yasmin stayed in contact with her clients via social media and says many offered support by buying gift vouchers and making pre-payments, sharing posts and sending messages.
She said: "We have been overwhelmed by the support from our clients. I have always said that the business is not about the money for me. I wanted to open the salon because I love what I do and I love making people feel good about themselves in a relaxing, friendly, non-intimidating and private environment.
After reopening on July 13, Yasmin said it had been "lovely seeing lots of familiar faces as well as a few new ones".
She said: "It is nice to hear that we have a reputation around Bristol for being a very clean and friendly salon and love that people feel safe enough to try us out at this time. I think we may just end up losing our voices soon though, as after four months away we have so much to catch up on with our clients!"
The New Moon pub in Fishponds Road has been busier since reopening on July 4 than it was pre-lockdown.
Landlady Louise Brain (above), who runs the pub with partner Elish Hughes, said customers were "very keen" to come back and the first day back was constantly busy from opening to closing time.
She said: "We had to stop letting people in at eight o'clock.
"During the lockdown we had a group chat on Facebook, keeping the regulars updated, and they were all saying they couldn't wait to get back in."
Louise and Elish also have a new group of customers – former colleagues at the nearby Morrisons supermarket, where both of them got jobs during lockdown.
Visits to the pub have changed, with people having to sit down rather than stand up and chat at the bar.
There is an order-and-pay point and a separate pick-up point for drinks.
People have been calling to book larger tables in advance and there is a track and trace system in place.
Live music is still not allowed, and Louise and Elish have decided not to bring back Sunday roasts for the time being.
Louise said: "We're still finding our feet in terms of the rules and regulations.
The new rules have resulted in some strange quirks: while the previously-popular golf machine cannot be used because it is designed to be played standing up, the pool table and gambling machine are still allowed.
"It doesn't make any sense," Louise said.
Distancing rules apply both inside the pub and in its outdoor seating area facing Fishponds Road.
However Louise says it is difficult to ensure people are keeping a metre apart and not standing at all times.
Similarly, the track and trace scheme is voluntary, so while all customers are asked to leave contact details, they cannot be forced to.
Louise said: "It's basically down to common sense. You have to maintain a balance between keeping the government regulations and keeping it a pub as well.
"We keep to the rules but we try to be as laid back as possible."