Getting a haircut may be one of the smaller pleasures in life but, as isolation pushes more people to try out homegrown dos, going to a salon may have taken on new meaning in a world defined by Covid-19.
Across the territory, the people cutting those locks have had wildly different pandemic experiences. Some are now simply trying to get by, while others have had an opportunity to blossom.
Hamza Alheehi, the owner of Styles & Tangles in Inuvik, has been working as a barber for most of his professional life. He said client numbers have dipped in the pandemic, particularly because of a lack of tourists.
“Before Covid, lots of tourists coming to the town were also getting haircuts,” he explained.
“They have come to Inuvik first and drive from there if they want to go to Tuk to check out the ocean… but last summer, there were no tourists.”
The NWT’s pandemic-related travel restrictions have all but eradicated tourism this year, save for the territory’s own residents going on vacation close to home.
Alheehi, who took over Styles & Tangles in 2011 when he moved to Inuvik, said he has developed a local client base, too – but the more financial strain the pandemic places on customers, the less frequently people come to get their hair cut.
Though the shop has been able to continue paying bills and making rent, there has been less income each month. Alheehi said he is doing the best he can to keep himself and customers safe amid the pandemic.
“I cannot wait until we’re done with Covid,” he said. “It was a really good life, but we don’t really notice that before – we just noticed that recently.”
Meanwhile, in Yellowknife, one hair salon has been able to expand thanks to a surge in demand.
Olivia Patterson of Blunt YK said the past nine months have been the busiest her shop has seen. She has added four more chairs and stylists for a total of nine, and is renovating a new space in the CloudWorks Four building on 49 Street.
Not to mention that Patterson had a baby in October.
“I’ve just been taking my expansion slow,” she said of the changes. “I started off in December 2017 with just myself and one other chair, and then people started approaching me asking to work with me … so it slowly started snowballing from there.”
Shopping local, supporting stylists
With travel restrictions keeping people in the NWT, Patterson thinks more Yellowknifers are trying out local salons.
“I think there’s a preconception that stylists in the North aren’t as good as the ones down south, but I actually think it’s the opposite,” Patterson said.
“I think we have so many talented artists here – not only at my salon, but other salons as well. With people not being able to travel and go down south any more, they’re kind-of forced to try us, so we’ve been even busier than before.”
Blunt YK’s new space on 49 Street officially opens on December 1.
Farther south, in Fort Smith, a family salon that has served the community for three decades has been on an even keel this year.
Shear Fun owner and stylist Denise Yuhas told Cabin Radio she hasn’t seen too much change in business. Aside from a new Covid-cleaning regime to keep everything sanitized and a few delayed product orders, she has been able to continue almost normally.
Yuhas, a hairdresser for 32 years, credits this steadiness to the long-lasting and often personal relationships she has cultivated with many of her clients.
“Ninety percent of people have been with me for a long time, and so they’re willing to wait until they can get in,” she said. “This has been my job for over 30 years. If I didn’t have loyal customers, I wouldn’t have made it past year three.”
Yuhas often serves several generations of the same family, she pointed out.
“Kids whose hair I started cutting when they’re three, I’m cutting their kids’ hair now, too,” she said. “My customers kind-of age with me. It’s kind-of cool, actually.”
Yuhas says she hasn’t let the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic get her down. She tried to be swift to implement safety measures and find a way to get through.
She does, however, have one piece of advice for everyone in the NWT: “If you can shop local, do it. We need to support everybody in our community.”
This coverage of the NWT’s business sector during the Covid-19 pandemic is sponsored by the NWT’s Department of Industry, Tourism, and Investment. Visit Buy North for more information on businesses near you.