Back at his craft after a pandemic-forced break, William Gandy Jr. trims the hair of Melvin Cole, a long-time customer. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

by Jerome Wright —

At 6 a.m. Monday (May 11), William Gandy Jr. was back behind his barber’s chair quaffing a customer for the first time since mid-March, when Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland ordered nonessential businesses to close to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Gandy, who works at the Trimmers on Winchester just west of Elvis Presley Boulevard, had 21 customers scheduled for Monday, including the writer of this story, all eager to get a haircut.

Melvin Cole, a retired photographer and welder, said he was overdue for a haircut and glad to be back in William Gandy Jr.’s barber’s chair. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

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 to comply with the guidelines, so the shop did not open until Monday.

Gandy had the shop to himself Monday. His fellow barbers did not begin work until Tuesday (May 12).

Asked if he felt safe, he said,  “I don’t really have a choice. I need to get back to work. I pray …Then I think about the doctors and nurses, who are out there dealing with this, and it puts my situation in a better perspective.”

Still, when he got home at night, he washed the clothes he wore that day and showered.

His feelings about getting back to work mirrors national, state and local debates around the country about the necessity to get the economy rolling again versus the safety of workers and consumers as the pandemic continues.

Beyond the safety concerns, Gandy said he had to get used to being back on his feet all day. “If you haven’t been doing something for a long time, it takes a while to get back to where you were.”

William Gandy Jr. sprays his barber’s chair after a customer — now standard procedure. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

The opening guidelines included:

■ 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.

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

The writer of this story was ninth on Gandy’s appointment schedule Monday. He wore a face mask and rubber gloves. Gandy wore gloves, a face mask and a plastic face shield.

As the writer walked through the door, Gandy was spraying a cleaning solution on his barber chair.

He scheduled his appointments 30 minutes apart to give himself time to serve a customer and to sanitize his equipment before his next appointment. His system was working.

He said he started at 6 a.m. because so many men were desperate to get a haircut. He also, started at 6 a.m. Tuesday, although that was not his original intention.

“I planned to start around 8 or 8:30 a.m., “but so many people called me and said they needed to come in Tuesday, I said, okay if you need to come in that badly, can you come early.”

He had 13 appointments Tuesday and 10 booked for Wednesday, although he expected that number to increase.

“I had a chance to coast (Tuesday) and I appreciated it,” he said.

His customers, he said, seemed at ease with the process, although one customer cancelled his appointment Tuesday because of COVID-19 concerns.

“He got nervous and cancelled. He said he had family members who had a contracted the virus, including some who had died. His wife was nervous about it,” Gandy said.

For the most part, though, everyone at the shop was following the guidelines. One of the barbers had a customer come in without a mask, but they made him go outside. Several people tried to drop in without an appointment, but they were turned away.

As for Gandy, he is just glad to be back at work and earning some money.

“I was eating hotdogs and now I can move up to a steak burger,” he said with a laugh.

Serving others spawns an idea

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

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.

The effort seeded a project idea for the nonprofit, which works with single working mothers to increase their earning potential.

She has been busy trying to get resources to make “essential boxes,” that will contain items beyond food.

“I got to thinking about the food giveaway, where bags of random food items were distributed. Our boxes will have actual complete meals, feminine products and cleaning products – basics things that people need,” she explained.

The nonprofit’s goal is to complete 50 boxes with the help of the Mid-South Food Bank, individual donors and Sister Supply, a nonprofit organization that supplies “pads and tampons for those who need them, like high school students and the homeless.”

Cowan plans to have all the boxes assembled in two weeks and initially distributed to the 20 mothers she works with and to hand out the rest through referrals.

Cowan has been working with a member of the organization’s board of directors to complete a strategic plan.

“I turned in all my homework,” needed to get that completed. The plan, when fully ready, will become part of the nonprofit’s “core materials” binder, “so that when we get ready to apply for a grant, everything will be right there.”

Life happens

James Cook

James Cook, who has been cutting grass and working for another 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, had a traffic accident Friday (May 8).

A careless driver rear-ended his beloved Mercedes-Benz S500, totaling it. “I loved that car,” he said, adding that it was paid for.

The resulting soreness caused him to miss time from work.

And, as anyone who has had their vehicle totaled in an accident knows, there is the issue of dealing with the insurance company regarding a settlement.

Meanwhile, Cook said “you really can’t take off in the restaurant business,” explaining that, even though he is hurting, he still had to help prepare a breakfast order for a group of nurses at a local hospital.


LIVING THROUGH COVID-19 ARCHIVES

Living with COVID-19 – Part VI