- Associated Press - Sunday, May 17, 2020

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) - For nearly 30 years, Chris Cole has been at The Hair Company like clockwork on a Tuesday every month at exactly 9 a.m.

But that routine was broken up last month as the coronavirus shut down barbers and hair salons statewide. On Tuesday, however, Cole was back in his usual spot with Hair Company owner Mike McBunch.

“It was time,” Cole said. “it’s been two months since my last haircut.”

And it was a reunion that McBunch was happy to have, having been completely closed for three weeks. He was able to stay open a couple of weeks working with an exception granted by the city, but the governor’s executive order superseded that exception.

Business has slowed anyway, to only a handful a day. But still, not cutting hair or giving shaves for three weeks was a lifetime for McBunch, who was eager to see Cole again.

“He’s been my first customer on Tuesday every month,” said McBunch, who also is the president of the Mississippi Board of Barber Examiners. “He’s been calling every week to ask when we were going to open, and I was happy to tell him today.”

Before sitting down in the barber’s chair, Cole had to answer a two-part questionnaire: Had he traveled outside the U.S. in the past 14 days, and had he experienced any COVID-19 symptoms in the past 14 days. A ‘yes’ to either question means no service. The customer then has to either wash his or her hands or use hand sanitizer.

Under Barber Board guidelines, McBunch wears a mask and gloves, washes his hands between customers and sanitizes the chair after each customer. A fresh or disposable cape must be used for each customer, and only one customer at a time is allowed in the shop. Others must wait outside or in their car before being called in.

The barber board held an emergency meeting last week, and offered the National Association of Barber Boards of America as a guideline to the state attorney general’s office. A proclamation was sent to the state’s chief medical examiner, and in turn, he went to Gov. Tate Reeves with a recommendation to reopen.

It’s a move that has been highly anticipated for weeks.

“We’ve got about 7,000 barbers statewide, and I felt all 7,000 called me one time or another through all this,” McBunch said. “It’s been wild; we’ve had a time with it.”

He also said Mississippi has some 2,400 barber shops, many of which will have to deal with the new normal – making appointments.

McBunch said the time of walk-ins is all but over, now that each customer has to be asked about potential COVID-19 exposure. McBunch estimates with that having to be done along with extra sanitizing, another 15-20 minutes per hour is taken away from giving haircuts.

“It’s kind of sad that first-come, first-serve has got to go away because you have to have appointments now,” McBunch said. “A lot of your old-time barbers have never done that and now they’re going to have to. Those barbers have to do 4-5 customers an hour to make money, and now they’ll have to slow down to really take care of their clientele.

“But that’s what we’re here for – we’re here for that customer’s safety, and we’re so glad the governor let us open back up again.”

Barber schools, however, are still closed, an issue that the barber board will be having another emergency meeting to discuss.

“I know it’s about safety first, and I applaud it,” McBunch sad.

Meanwhile, salons and barbershop are slowly reopening and adjusting to the changes.

“I’m just excited to get back in business; it’s been a long time,” McBunch said.

And satisfied with his haircut, Cole went ahead and scheduled his appointment for June – on a Tuesday at 9 a.m.

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