Way Too Close for Comfort: Barbers Going Under as Israel Enters Coronavirus Lockdown

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Eliran Haroush in his hair salon in central Tel Aviv, March 27, 2020.
Eliran Haroush in his hair salon in central Tel Aviv, March 27, 2020.Credit: Meged Gozani
Almog Ben Zikri
Almog Ben Zikri
Almog Ben Zikri
Almog Ben Zikri

On ordinary days, Albert Ohayon’s barber shop in Be’er Sheva is a magnet for people who are fond of the old ways. While many in his profession have turned to cutting hair with an electric clipper, Albert, who comes to work in tailored pants and a buttoned shirt, remains loyal to his scissors. Last week, following new instructions for combating the coronavirus, he closed shop and hunkered down at home. His clients, he says, continue to call him, asking that he cut their hair. “They tell me to come undercover. I tell them no undercover and no home visits – how do I know who has the virus?”

For decades Albert, who is approaching 60, has been operating his shop at the city’s Gilat Center. He has a small side room with a barber chair from the mid-20th century. The shop, for men only, has a loyal, veteran clientele. Albert has known many of them since childhood. However, the new regulations have changed everything.

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“There is no work, no income, only expenses, everything is a big mess,” he says. After closing his shop, he’s rarely left his house. “I’m never one to cry, I always try and help others, but it’s not nice now, not good. I don’t have any money on the side. One week without work is already too much for me.”

Albert has cut down his home expenses over the last two weeks. “I only buy food,” he says, avoiding anything that could be called a luxury item. He says he tried going to the National Insurance Institute offices to fill out forms for self-employed people, but was unsuccessful. “They ask you for so many details, codes, passwords, all for a pittance they pay in the end.” He hopes he can get some help from someone who knows computers so he can fill out the required forms.

Albert Ohayon’s barber shop in Be’er Sheva, 2017.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkowitz

Enough breathing space for two months

The prohibition on opening barber shops forces barbers to come up with creative solutions. Eliran Haroush, 40, started learning the trade when he was 16, devoting everything to it since then. For the last 14 years he’s owned a barber shop in central Tel Aviv, which he had to close last week. Since then, he’s started selling makeup and hair dyeing kits to his clients. “If I have no choice, I’ll have to step up on this alternative source of income, but obviously it can’t sustain the business, it’s like a little Band-Aid, no more.”

Haroush, who is married with two children, has seen his income almost completely wiped out since the spread of the virus. His wife is a dietitian, and her income has also fallen by 50 percent. Meanwhile, expenses continue as usual. These include mortgage payments on their home, rent for his shop, payments to suppliers of products he uses and ongoing routine payments. Haroush has no idea if there will be some deferral or reduction in these costs. “It’s very difficult, I had to fire two employees, as well as one cosmetician I have who was left with no work, as well as a manicurist in the same situation. I keep trying to find solutions, keeping my head above water.”

Haroush estimates that financially, he has breathing space for another two months. On ordinary days he’d have between 15 and 30 customers, but when the virus spread, that number plummeted until the shop closed completely. “I’m also worried about the period after it’s over,” he says. “I don’t know how much money people will have, and that’s frightening. If I knew it would last a month and everything would return to normal, that would somehow be all right. But you don’t know what will happen when it’s over.”

"You don’t know what will happen when it’s over”

Eliran Haroush in his hair salon in central Tel Aviv, March 27, 2020.Credit: Meged Gozani

Freeze everything

In the coming days, Lior Kardi, a 41-year-old hair stylist who runs a beauty salon in Jerusalem, will see 12,500 shekels ($3,500) come out of his bank account for payment of property tax and rental fees for his business. By the middle of March, the number of his customers dropped by 60 percent. On March 15, he suspended business.

“I don’t show it and don’t want my children to feel we lack anything, but I go to bed worried,” he says.

Kardi, married with three children, has been in the business for years, but he can’t remember a crisis like this one. His wife, who works for the Jewish Agency, continues to work from home, but her number of workdays has been reduced. Ordinarily, Kardi has two employees, but he’s had to lay them off. “The overdraft keeps growing and you are dependent on the goodwill of the salon’s landlord. I asked him to freeze the collection of rental payments, but it’s not happening for now. He says he’s thinking about it.”

Kardi says that in theory, at least, he’s set a red line: If in three months things stay as they are and the landlord does not agree to suspend rental payments, he’ll have to close down his business.

"The state is digging a hole for us, with state-guaranteed loans, which we’ll have to pay back in the end, including interest”

Lior Kardi in his hair salon in Jerusalem, March 27, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

Kardi is full of resentment over the state’s lack of assistance to small and mid-size business owners. “No one is helping out,” he says. “They said we’d get 6,000 shekels, but they limited that to people earning up to 150,000 shekels. This doesn’t address our problem at all, our rental payments are much higher than that, as are property taxes, insurance, value-added tax and income tax, all of them are much higher than that amount.”

He says the solution is much simpler. “You froze our income, so freeze our expenses as well. Freeze everything so that we can return to the place we were at when it’s over. The state is digging a hole for us, with state-guaranteed loans, which we’ll have to pay back in the end, including interest.”

From 100 to zero

Ada Castro, 59, has owned a hair salon for 35 years. For the last 17 years, her shop has been in Kiryat Tivon, next to her house. Most of her customers are women, who have stopped coming due to the situation, with a virtual lockdown now in place. “I went from 100 to 0. The numbers started falling at the end of February and I had some work earlier this month, but since the shop closed, I’ve only sold two hair products,” she says.

Castro, divorced with one adult child, pays her own way. Her son recently moved back in. “I’m definitely cutting down on expenses since I don’t know where this is going and for how long. I cut expenses as much as I can. I’m limiting food portions I prepare for me and my son, but I’m not really in dire straits.”

Barbershop in Jerusalem, January 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Castro also worries about business after the siege ends. “The crisis is affecting me like it does others, it’s terrible. But since there are only two of us, our needs aren’t that great.”

She says she’s stopped paying suppliers, telling those insisting on payment to take back their products. “Since I’ve been in business for 35 years, they trust me. No one has come to take products back.”

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