Business was unusually brisk Wednesday in Jerry Hudler’s downtown Wilkesboro barbershop.
Hud’s Barber Shop is normally closed on Wednesdays, but circumstances were different this week. Every customer—and every generous tip—meant more than normal because it was Hudler’s last day in business for 30 days under an order issued Monday by Gov. Roy Cooper to help limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Cooper ordered that all barber shops, beauty salons, hair salons, nail salons, massage parlors, tattoo parlors, bingo parlors (including those operated by nonprofits), bowling alleys, indoor exercise facilities, health clubs, indoor pools, live performance venues, movie theaters, skating rinks, spas, sweepstakes lounges and video game arcades close by 5 p.m. Wednesday.
“Monday was slow, because of the threat of the virus,” said Hudler on Wednesday while finishing up a customer with three more waiting in the wings. “I’ve been wide open since then. Last week I was 65% off (usual business), but I made all that up yesterday.”
The mandated closure couldn’t have come at a worse time for Hudler, who opened his business at 103 East Main Street 10 years ago.
“After today, I don’t know what we’re going to do. My wife lost her job, so this is it.”
Beth Hudler worked at Watauga Medical Center in Boone until about six weeks ago. She was a victim of staff restructuring prior to the escalation of COVID-19 to pandemic status.
“With me being a stay-at-home parent, this brings us down to literally zero income,” said Beth on Wednesday. “We will get through this. It’s hard right now, but I have faith that it’s just a bump in the road and a season that will pass.”
The Hudlers have four dependents in their household, ranging in age from 7 to 26. Beth’s grandmother, who has liver cancer, also lives in the home.
“We are certainly not the only ones in this situation,” added Beth. “The lady that cuts my hair (Jeannie Sebastian) is a single mother, and without her business, she is now a zero-income family as well.”
Jerry Hudler explained that as a self-employed business owner, he can’t draw unemployment benefits because he doesn’t pay into the tax. He’s eligible for a self-employed small business loan, but doesn’t need it. “It’s horrible—valley on one side, the mountain on the other. That’s exactly where we’re at.”
Hudler said his plan starting Thursday was to “try and find some stuff to do on the side until I can get back in” the barber shop. “People say there’s jobs out there, but there’s a two-week waiting period, so by the time I work two weeks and draw one check, then the shop’s back open. So, what do you do? I’m in limbo.”
The closing of the shop affects more than just the barber, he said. “I’ve got a guy who comes in here every day, Bucky Sexton. He comes in and hangs out with me, drinks coffee and watches television. Now, he’s upset because he’s got nowhere to go. It’s the camaraderie of having people in here.”
Arlene Staley, owner of Arlene & Friends Salon on 6th Street, North Wilkesboro, said Wednesday that she felt the weight of a responsibility to her clients that she now can’t fulfill.
“We are devastated. It’s going to be hard on everyone who works here—for some it is the only source of income, but we totally understand. The health and safety of our families and clients is the most important thing,” added Staley.
“The more we obey the rules the quicker this will be over for everyone.”
Josh Beshears owns and operates Second Street Barber Shop in North Wilkesboro with his father, Gary Beshears. It’s been a family business for nearly 50 years.
Josh said he’s been barbering for 21 years, and Gary has cut hair for 36 years. Gary’s father, Ritz Beshears, was in the same line of work for 50 years.
“We may have to eat a bit more bologna than we want to, but we will prevail and remember this is only temporary,” said Josh on Wednesday. “Thankfully, we have some great, loyal, understanding customers that we value every day who seemed to completely understand the situation.”
Beshears said the shop has also seen a spate of people rushing in for last-minute haircuts. “We didn’t really have a lot of time to prepare. We suspected it would happen; we just didn’t know when or for how long.”
He said the unprecedented move to close barber shops and other small businesses created an “eerie kind of strange feeling. It’s something nobody likes or really wants to do, but if it’s for the greater good then let’s all do our part.”
The sacrifices being made daily to fight the war against the coronavirus continue for Beshears and others. He added, “The sooner we all get back to normal the better. I just hope our leaders don’t try to play politics with livelihoods hanging in the balance.”