A steady crowd of customers could be found waiting their turn outside Martina’s Classic Barber Shoppe on Thursday, May 21. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)

COVID-19 adds cost for reopening downtown Salmon Arm businesses

Owners happy for return of regular customers but still have concerns

A physically-distanced cluster of customers sit outside Martina’s Classic Barber Shoppe in downtown Salmon Arm, awaiting their turn in one of two chairs within.

Inside, shop manager Tamara Timmers and staff were busy removing the curls and locks of individuals who have been waiting for a haircut since March 21, when the B.C. government ordered barbershops and salons closed as part of the effort to control the spread of COVID-19.

Martina’s reopened on Tuesday, May 19. Timmers said things got emotional, seeing so many faces she hadn’t seen in a while.

“I missed work, I missed talking to people,” Timmers said while with clipping a customer on Thursday, May 21.

But being back behind at the barber chair, with the virus still a reality, was also cause for some concern.

“I honestly don’t think this industry is ready to be open yet,” said Timmers, noting it’s not a job were you can maintain a two-metre distance from customers. “I feel like this is a test to see if numbers increase due to the COVID-19 outbreak.”

That said, Timmers had invested in the precautions prescribed for her industry, including face masks for workers and customers, one apron per customer and sanitizers for hands and barber tools. In addition, customer visits were spaced out to allow time in between for sanitization. Services were also adjusted, including no shaves and no blow drying.

Given the cost of all this, Timmers said prices may need to be adjusted.

Salmon Arm Barber Shop’s Matt Koivisto said he’s spent a lot of money on COVID-19 related improvements, from partitions between chairs to personal protective equipment (PPE). To help recover some of the cost, he’s had to add a PPE fee. In addition to equipment, Koivisto said he also had factor in having fewer customers per day to allow for sanitization time in between. On a positive note, in addition to the closure allowing time to renovate and expand his shop, Koivisto took advantage of the opportunity to acquire several industry-related certifications, among them International Master Barber status, certified and accredited through the British Master Barbers Alliance.

With bookings into the coming week, Koivisto said he’s prepared as he can be for COVID-19.

“It’s evolving as it goes along and we’re just trying to roll with the punches as we can, and do the best we can and try to stay as safe,” said Koivisto.

Across the street from Koivisto, people were seated outside the Pink Cherry enjoying a beverage. Owner Angie Alder said they’re not quire ready for customers dining inside.

The cost involved in providing COVID-19 precautions have been a concern for the restaurateur, who now takes food and drink orders from behind a sheet of plexiglass. Adding to her concerns are the cancellation of numerous city events in response to the virus, including Roots and Blues and the Salmon Arm Fair, as well as the recent news from BC Parks that Albertans with reservations to stay in local provincial campgrounds this summer were being cancelled.

“We’re missing out on that too because we had a lot of people from Alberta come here last summer,” said Alder.

Happy to once again see her regular customers walk through the Pink Cherry’s door, Alder would like to be able to offer them a place to sit but stresses it will be a challenge to accommodate.

Down the block, Hungry Panda Curbside Noodles had been back in business for about three weeks, but only for takeout. Owner Stewart Fells was pleased he was able to bring all his staff back to work.

“We’ve managed to institute policies to keep everyone safe and still carry on with the same quality of service,” said Fells, explaining he actually had more staff working at the same time than in the past to further reduce risk of cross-contamination.

Fells said costs had gone up – the cost of food significantly – but he’d been able to maintain a good price point and the restaurant was keeping busy.

As for dining in, Fells said that likely won’t happen for a while yet.

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The regulations are very heavy on the responsibilities of the business operator – as it should be I think – to maintain the safety of all the customers and staff,” said Fells. “In order for that to work in our situation it would require a pretty labour-intensive process.”

Some downtown business said the interest-free loan of up to $40,000, made available to small businesses from the federal government, helped with expenses during closure and their reopening.

The organization Downtown Salmon Arm continues to support businesses with such strategies as the Rediscover Downtown campaign, reminding people the downtown is open for business.

“To date, we have a healthy portion of our downtown businesses choosing to reopen their doors, under the self-regulating safety guidelines outlined by the (provincial health officer),” commented Downtown Salmon Arm’s Jennifer Broadwell. “We also have a few that are choosing to wait a while longer.

“Each decision is supported as this is new territory for us all. We ask that Shuswap residents Rediscover Downtown in the way that fits them best. With the suspected hit to the tourism economy this summer, supporting local is more important now than ever.”

For more information on reopening downtown businesses, visit the Downtown Salmon Arm Facebook page.

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