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“Some barbers are hosting haircutting parties in their condos”: A Q&A with the hairstylist petitioning the province to reopen salons

By Courtney Shea| Photography by Daniel Neuhaus
"Some barbers are hosting haircutting parties in their condos": A Q&A with the hairstylist petitioning the province to reopen salons

If you live in Toronto, haircuts are the new toilet paper. Everybody needs one, people are going to extremes to get one, and the whole situation has turned into a crap storm. Last week Peter Gosling, a grooming professional and co-owner of the Glassbox Barbershop, released a video accusing the government of creating unfair rules that keep hair salons shuttered while other businesses are allowed to open. Gosling says the current restrictions have pushed his industry into an unsafe (and thriving) black market. Here, he tells Toronto Life about his salon’s “hospital-grade” hygiene protocols, why haircuts al fresco are not the answer and how illegal haircutting parties are taking over Instagram. (Hashtag super-spreader!)

Yesterday Ontario’s health minister Christine Elliott said that haircuts are likely coming back in a few weeks. For those of us desperate for a snip—is this good news? It could be, but that’s what they said four months ago when we had to shut down. It was supposed to be two weeks to flatten the curve, then it was a full lockdown, then at Christmas it was 30 days and now we’re into March. It’s hard, especially when you see other businesses that are operating. Christine Elliott says it’s about having people in proximity, but for some reason it’s okay to get a massage and have someone rub you. How does that even make sense?

Aren’t massages considered a health service? They are and they aren’t. You have people going for health issues, but there are a lot of other people who have time off and benefits who just want to get a massage. Or they want to go to Walmart to get their photos printed, or they’re shopping at Old Navy, or they’re taking Ubers. I want to be clear that I’m not against safety precautions. I’m not a Covid denier or an anti-masker or anything like that. I believe we are in a very serious situation, but I also believe that my industry is being unfairly penalized. And because we are not being allowed to operate, we’re seeing a whole underground economy pop up that is a lot more dangerous.

What does that look like? Just type “haircut” into Kijiji and you’ll see that people are offering cuts. They’re doing it in their kitchens or their garages or they’re going to clients’ homes. It’s not even like they’re hiding it—you have stylists posting about it on their social media. I saw one video of a barber hosting a haircutting party in his condo. Everyone was drinking and smoking and obviously not observing any safety protocols. Or you see these salons where they’ve got garbage bags taped up on all the windows. What do you think is going on behind there?

You tell me...
You have salons that are operating even though it’s against the rules—taking appointments off the books, sometimes from people who are willing to pay a lot more than usual. I’ve had people offer me $300-plus for a haircut. 

Did you accept?
How could I not? You’d be surprised who’s coming in. I’ve cut hair for doctors at some of the city’s major hospitals, staff of some of our senior politicians. I’m not proud of breaking the rules, I’m just not in a position to say no. And the cuts I did were at my salon, where I can provide a safe environment. That’s the whole point. If we know people are going to get their hair cut, why not just recognize that the safest way to move forward is to allow our businesses to operate responsibly?

How can you be sure that you’re providing a safe environment? Obviously there is no such thing as 100 per cent safety, but we know that we can be extremely safe because we did it last summer. From June to November, we had zero Covid cases at any of my five salons. We had a pre-screening process, we took temperatures at doors, we had everyone sanitize and then go to their stylist’s station, which were socially distant. All of my staff were in PPE, clients wore disposable gowns. We’re talking hospital-grade hygiene here. And then compare that to the wild west that we’re seeing now.

You’ve probably seen that Eileen de Villa and Mayor Tory talk about the possibility of salons reopening for outdoor haircuts. Could that work? I think it’s insane. How are you supposed to do foils outside? Who wants to get their hair cut in 30-degree heat? Or if it’s windy or raining? This is not a real solution—and, honestly, it feels like an insult. You have to go through a lot of training to operate as a hairstylist, and a lot of that is on health and safety. We are the only Red Seal trade that isn’t allowed to operate right now [in Ontario]. That’s part of the frustration, feeling like our profession is not getting any respect. We are professionals, but there is this Grease “Beauty School Drop-Out” kind of stereotype, like we’re a bunch of bimbos and all we do is look pretty and do hair.

In your opinion, is hair cutting an essential service? I’m not saying that, but I do think that we are as essential as some other businesses that are being allowed to operate. And people are obviously desperate. My salon in Hamilton is open for business right now, and we are totally slammed with people coming in from Toronto and Niagara. This region-hopping is just another example of how people are engaging in unsafe behaviour so they can get their hair cut. I’m desperate, too. I was looking at getting my real estate licence over the summer because there’s so much uncertainty. I have other barbers telling me they can’t pay their kids’ daycare costs, or make rent. For a lot of us, this is a matter of survival.

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Have you received any response from government? I just heard from someone at Doug Ford’s office today. I think my video got enough attention to put our situation on the front burner. He has said that they’re going to be discussing the personal care services, so we’ll see what happens next.

Speaking of the premier, he’s sporting a pretty notable—what would you call his style, exactly—giant poof ball? What sort of post-Covid coif would you suggest? I have actually cut Doug Ford’s hair before. He came in a few years ago when the Obamas were in town. I can tell you that he has a very nice head of thick hair. But he’s a conservative politician, so it’s not like we’d do anything edgy. I would give him just a classic clean cut. And also a piece of my mind.

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