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Living with COVID-19 – Part VI

by Jerome Wright —

Getting back to work

Barber William Gandy Jr. is looking forward to getting back to work at his Whitehaven barbershop, Trimmers, on Monday.

William Gandy Jr.

A new health directive for Shelby County allowed hair salons and barbershops to open Wednesday (May 6), under strict guidelines, in the first phase of the Back to Business plan for Memphis and Shelby County.

But, Gandy, his fellow barbers and the owner of the Trimmers shops around the city needed time to prepare.

“We’re going back Monday. We have a whole lot of guidelines to prepare to get ready before we can reopen. You just can’t get back on track in two seconds,” Gandy said.

Those guidelines are:

■ Checking employee temperatures before they enter the work area, and not allowing employees to enter if they have a fever or other COVID-19 symptoms.

■ Stocking the workplace with hand sanitizer, soap and sanitizing wipes.

■ Maintaining an appointment book with customer details.

■ All employees should wear face coverings and gloves when providing services.

■ Items such as capes, smocks and neck strips should be one-time use between cleanings or disposable.

■ Work stations should be at least six feet apart.

■ Customers must be served by appointment, with walk-ins permitted if they wait in their vehicle.

■ Unless a customer is a minor, non-customer companions may not be allowed to accompany customers during a service.

Gandy said the shop’s owner is trying to find disposal capes and thermometers, and he is going to relax the booth-rental fee “to give us a chance to catch up” (on their finances).

Gandy and his co-workers are independent contractors. “We’re in business for ourselves. We just rent the space,” he said.

He plans to schedule customer visits 30 minutes apart, figuring that will give him enough time to finish a haircut and sanitize his equipment before his next customer arrives.

“The most important thing for us is to make sure the customer is safe, along with us,” Gandy said.

Barber shops have long had the distinction of be social gathering spots, as well as a place to get quaffed. That especially is true for shops that cater to an African-American clientele.

For example, the banter between the barbers, or between the barbers and the customers, can be highly entertaining and extremely funny.

When you add the people who constantly pop in and out just to say hello, drop off food to the barbers or to sell various items, the barber shop is a pretty lively place.

Gandy calls it “a big social club,” where all kinds of people come together to get a haircut.

All that will change now, he said, because of the virus.

“We will be keeping the doors locked to keep people from drifting in and out,” he said.

Rethinking who needs help

Margaret Cowan, founding keeper of the nonprofit I Am My Sister’s Keeper, and her three daughters spent Saturday (May 2) helping distribute about 300 bags of food in Cordova.

Margaret Cowan (right) and Sheleah Grace of Living Grace, Inc. at the food giveaway in Cordova. (Courtesy photo)

They represented I Am My Sister’s Keeper to help distribute the food with Living Grace Inc., a nonprofit that advocates for homeless unaccompanied youth and young adults, which had partnered with the Mid-South Food Bank.

Cowan said her initial thought was why would people in Cordova, one of the city’s more well-to-do areas, need bags of food?

“But then you realize these people aren’t working either (because of layoffs and furloughs resulting from the COVID-19 virus). They were really grateful,” she said.

I Am My Sister’s Keeper works with single working mothers to increase their earning potential.

Sticking with drive through

James Cook (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

James Cook has been cutting grass and working for a Lenny’s franchisee since he had to close his two businesses in Memphis International Airport – Runway 901 Bar & Grill and Lenny’s Grill and Subs – in March because of a lack of airport passenger traffic.

And, although local restaurants were allowed to restart limited dine-in business Monday (May 4), Cook said the franchisee he works for plans to continue allowing drive through only.

“We’re not going into in-house dining just yet,” Cook said. “We’re still successful with our drive through.”

He added, “We’re not going to jeopardize our safety or our customers’.”

Cook said people have been “pleading” with him to reopen his airport Lenny’s to add more diversity to the dining offerings there.

He is still waiting for a significant uptick in passenger traffic before reopening.

(Jerome Wright is deputy editor for The New Tri-State Defender.)


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