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Hair and now

If this column came with an updated photo — no chance of that — you might wonder if Ludwig van Beethoven is today's guest writer. That's what my hair looks like: the bust on Schroeder's piano when Lucy hangs over it.

On the eve of what was supposed to be the reopening date for the state's barbers and hairstylists, the friend who has been making my mane behave for years called to update me on the frustration he and his colleagues were feeling at the governor's last-minute switch from a May 20 reopening. For several days he and others had been deep-cleaning the Waterford salon where they work. His chore, among others, was to climb on a ladder and dismantle the ceiling fans, clean the parts and put them back together.

The salon, like all others in the state, has been shut down for more than two months, so it's against all logic that a perishable virus might have been hiding on the blades. But if you had seen the regulations that were put forth and amended before finally being shelved for now, you would know that fans, open windows, and air-conditioning were part of the plan for keeping the air flowing. Blow driers, however, were out — until they were in.

The governor changed his directive at the urging of a newly-organized group of beauticians, many of them from Fairfield County, where the coronavirus pandemic has sickened and killed many times more people than in New London County. They feared they could not keep themselves nor their clients safe for lack of personal protective equipment and refurbishing. Locally, many stylists and barbers invested time and money in meeting the standards — investments that won't be wasted when they do reopen, of course. But if it had been up to them, they'd be cutting hair around here by now.

Hair care establishments are the quintessential local small businesses. They are Mom and/or Pop shops, and almost every customer lives not far away. They have a close connection with each regular client, know their pets' names, bake cookies for them at Christmas. Nothing about the personal care they provide lends itself to social distancing. Thus, to many of them the governmentally approved guidelines felt both unrealistic and out of character. They hardly knew where to start.

The epitome of the dilemma for both barbers and stylists is that so much of their clientele is over 65. The regulations urged them not to welcome the elderly. The reasoning was sound, because of the COVID infection risk, but it underestimated human habits. People in their 80s and beyond keep going for a haircut or a perm when they no longer go too many other places. The visit is their key to presentability, a boost to morale and a social occasion itself.

The on-again, off-again reopening presents us with an early example of what may occur as retail businesses, museums, houses of worship, and others get phased in. Those with outdoor spaces or enough windows to open wide will have an edge. But they will all still have to figure out what to do when senior citizens show up for a long-overdue haircut or a new pair of shoes. Will Mom and Pop send Grandma and Grandpa away?

Lisa McGinley is a member of The Day Editorial Board. 

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