No haircuts, manicures or facials: How Ontario’s beauty industry is coping with COVID-19


TORONTO —
For many workers in the beauty industry, the services they provide go beyond a haircut, manicure or eyebrow wax.

But when a global pandemic such as COVID-19 hits Canada and brings with it new measures such as social distancing and closure of non-essential businesses, where does that leave the hairstylists, barbers, lash technicians and spa owners who are suddenly out of work?

Tara Maruf, who has been a hairstylist for 15 years, says the pandemic has greatly impacted her life.

“I’m nervous for myself. I’m angered by the people who are not following social distancing. I think I’m going through every stage of grief right now,” she told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Tuesday.

For the last five years, the mother of two has been operating a salon out of her home in Ottawa.

“When my clients come in, they see everything – my family, my homebase,” she said. “I feel like I’ve displaced a lot of people who are in need of a haircut, in need of a connection and conversation.”

“I miss them, I really do,” Maruf says of her clients. In an effort to keep in touch with them, Maruf does a live video on Instagram every evening.

Some in the industry decided to stop working before Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the closure of non-essential businesses in the province.

Romulo Bor, who has worked as a barber in Toronto for the last four years, told CTVNews.ca that the risk of spreading the virus at work is simply too high. 

Public health officials are telling people to stay at least two metres away from each other to curb the spread of COVID-19, making it impossible for Bor and the rest of the industry to conduct their work.

His barbershop decided to close because they wanted to be “a part of a solution,” he added.

Still, he worries about what this uncertain period will bring.

“It’s challenging. My wife works in a dental office so she’s out of work because of the crisis. I have a kid, bills to pay and rent at the beginning of the month,” Bor said.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government is introducing the Canada Emergency Response Benefit that will provide $2,000 a month for up to four months for Canadians who have lost their income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trudeau said that the federal government is doing everything it can to help people who are worried about paying their bills in this health crisis.

Despite feeling scared about the uncertainty of these times, Sofia Mustafa, a lash technician in Toronto, is paying it forward and encouraging others in the beauty industry to do so too.

She donated all her supplies – from accelerated hydrogen peroxide, to wipes, gloves and disposable masks – to health care workers in the city.

“Why would I let [my supplies] sit there when I don’t know when I can get back to work anyway?” she questioned. “They can be impactful now.”

Mustafa rents a room in Michelle Palmer’s spa Pause Beauty Boutique in Toronto’s Bloorcourt Village. Palmer runs her business on a membership basis that sees clients pay for services on a monthly or yearly basis.

“We’re in a unique position with our revenue model,” Palmer said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “But the long-term aspect of what we’re facing could become problematic.” Still, she’s doing what she can to take care of her team of subcontractors.

“I was in a position to pay their full wages for the two weeks we’re closed,” she said. “And then I said we’ll meet again in a few weeks and regroup.”

For Palmer’s small team – there’s six of them at the spa – it’s been hard “not to see each other all the time.”

That sense of closeness at work is missed by Marissa Paton, who is the business development manager for Che Bella Spa in Toronto’s midtown.

The owner of the spa, Lucy Demma, has had some of her clients for 15 years.

“They’re our family. They’ve been calling us because they are concerned about us,” Paton told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Tuesday. She questions what will become of the beauty industry in a post-pandemic world.

“Will business remain the same or be as booming as it was before? It’s an uneasy feeling,” she said. The most Paton can do is stay positive and stay connected to clients through social media.

For most of the workers CTVNews.ca spoke to, they said the outpouring of support they have received from clients is a major help.

“I feel really supported, which is great because it shows how important the relationship between barbers and clients are,” said Bor.





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