‘I can’t wait to get back at it’

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NO SHORT CUTS John Kelly of Kelly’s Barbers, Castle Street, Castlebar pictured when barbers reopened on June 29, 2020. He is hoping they can reopen next month. Pic: Alison Laredo


Edwin McGreal

In the last six months, John Kelly’s barbers on Castle Street in Castlebar have been open for just three and a half weeks.
They closed on October 23 as the whole country moved to a Level 5 lockdown and reopened on December 1, until Christmas Eve.
Kelly had a sense then they would not be reopening quickly and told his staff to ‘forget about January anyway’ and felt they might be able to reopen in February.
But, here they are, in late April, hopeful that they will be permitted to open at some stage in May.
If they open during that month, it will mean they were closed for over nine months of the past 14 months.
On one level, he gets it. On another he wonders has there been too much caution and a lack of a more nuanced approach.
“After Christmas the numbers in the country went sky high, the highest they were,” he told The Mayo News.
“But I’m in the Barbers’ Society and we did our research. Of the two million personal services between barbers, hair salons, beauty services etc in the three and a half weeks we were open, only seven cases were linked back to personal services. That’s very low.
“We did antigen testing in the shop for staff. I felt it was my responsibility and if there was a positive result there, you could send someone for a test. I think it a system we could have embraced more in this country but there did not seem to be a buy in for it.
“It worked for us anyway. We had no case among our staff.
“People have been getting cuts at home but it is people going to other houses, the black market, that would concern me. We’re a controlled environment and we’ve had to stay closed. People felt safe when they came into us,” said Kelly.
Comments from the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar last week that services like barbers will reopen at some stage in May have given Kelly cause for optimism.
“I can’t wait to get back at it. You miss the craic and the banter with customers and staff. I’m in contact with staff every week but you’d miss the craic at the barbers. You can’t replicate that on Zoom.”
He said the closures have been ‘tough’ but added the government supports for businesses like his have been a ‘big help’. While he feels barbers are safe to open now if they operate an appointments system and take other public health precautions, the last thing he wants to face now is opening for a few weeks and then closing again.
“I prefer that we stayed closed as long as necessary so that when we reopened, we stayed reopened. I definitely don’t want to be reopening and then closing in September. If that happens, I will definitely lose staff who will grow fed up with opening and closing and all the uncertainty that goes with it,” he said.

Adapting
Reopening last June meant changes. They lost staff as they had to leave more space between chairs, meaning less haircuts at any given time. Walk ins became a thing of the past, replaced by appointments. It was guided by public health imperatives but Kelly said it is a system both staff and customers have embraced and now prefer.
Kelly’s Barbers will be 90 years in business in November 2022 and John is the third generation of the family to run the popular Castlebar business, following in the footsteps of his grandfather Thomas and father Seán. His son Conrad is also in the family business, making it a fourth generation.
It has been a year like no other on one of Castlebar’s most famed streets.
“Covid has had a big impact on the street here and the changing nature of activity has definitely impacted on our trade. For instance when we reopened we were busy initially but there wasn’t that surge of trade at the weekend because people weren’t going anywhere. There was no going for pints, going for a meal, weddings etc. Stuff that might generally bring people in for a haircut.
“Bars like Ray Prendergast’s and The Castle Inn and the bookies Ladbrokes have all been closed and you’d miss the activity that would come from there. I think it will be next year before we see anything approaching normality but you have to be hopeful for the future.”