VERO BEACH — For Eddie Grey, owning a successful barbershop is more than just business – it’s a childhood dream come true.
The 41-year-old and his team of barbers have a diverse clientele at Clipperhandz barbershop in Vero Beach. Grey said customers feel like they’re “on top of the world” after barbers serve them different hairstyles, including fades, comb covers, kids cuts and hot towel shaves.
But the shop, along with other small businesses across the nation, might be in jeopardy as companies close or change hours because of health concerns regarding the novel coronavirus. The move comes as authorities try to slow the spread of the illness, which has affected 393 Florida residents in the state, causing at least nine deaths as of Thursday evening, health officials said.
“I work for myself. There are no benefits,” Grey said. “I have to make every dollar I can make and account for it. People who work for big companies can not go to work and still get paid.”
Some restaurants, like McDonald’s, are still able to conduct business by having to-go orders and take-out, and restricting inside seating. But, businesses requiring close contact with customers, including barbershops, nail salons and dentist offices, might not have that option.
“My guys have families to feed. That’s my main concern,” said Grey, of Vero Beach. “This fear has been created. It’s crazy. The schools are closing and businesses are shutting down. Some of the stuff they’re doing is going to hurt more than help us.”
Close contact businesses are struggling with the decision whether to stay open or close. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommended gatherings be limited to no more than 10 people, and that individuals should stay at least six feet away from each other.
Some Vero companies, like Hair Biz & Co. and Dog Grooming, plan to stay open. Others, including Studio Gabriel North boutique and Seaside Smiles, will shut its doors temporarily while still providing either in-home or emergency services.
Keeping the shop clean
For many, a barbershop is a place of comfort and great conversation. When Grey first opened Clipperhandz in 2014, he wanted to bring something fresh to Vero Beach.
“It was a challenge in the beginning. I’ve been blessed with a great team,” Grey said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
Grey said he puts on a variety of music for his customers, including reggae, rhythm and blues, old school and pop. The master barber said he talks to his clients about life, family, sports and music all while grooming their hair.
“I give advice to kids, teenagers and adults,” Grey said. “I listen to what people say and their experience. I like to influence people and learn from other people.”
Recently, Grey said the conversations steer to talking about the coronavirus.
Grey said the shop is taking more health precautions in an effort to keep clients and barbers safe from the virus, also known as COVID-19. But, Grey said he has no plans of closing his shop or limiting the hours, unless a mandatory order takes place.
“If you’re open for one hour or 10 hours, you’re still exposing yourself,” Grey said. “They’re telling everybody to stay inside and limit social interaction. But, they’re letting everybody go out and vote with everybody touching the machines.”
The shop has doubled up on cleaning, including wiping down benches, barber chairs and door handles, Grey said. Kids waiting to get their favorite haircut usually play NBA 2k19, Madden NFL or Fortnite on a 55-inch television screen in the lobby.
The game controllers and remote control are also wiped down regularly, Grey said.
Grey said he and another barber usually wear gloves when they cut hair. But, Grey said he is not enforcing that rule on other barbers.
“Sometimes (the gloves) gets in their way,” Grey said. “Every barber regularly washes their hands. We’re touching people’s faces and getting into their skin.”
Grey said the barbers use Barbicide, a disinfectant, to clean their tools. The razors in the shop are dispensable.
Self-employment amid massive business closings
A spirit of entrepreneurship has always been inside Grey’s heart.
At 12 years old, Grey started his first business as a landscaper. Grey said he would push his lawnmower while heading to cut crass for his clients.
That sense of self-employment pushed Grey to obtain his master’s barbers license. Grey also owns and manages other businesses, including a tax office and surveillance audio and visual company, outside of the barbershop.
But, with self-employment also comes uncertainty of the future amid the coronavirus public health crisis.
“I’m a father of three,” Grey said. “There’s no sick days off and no time off. If we can’t make our money, then we’re stuck.”