“I was in the Army in the ’80’s. When I got out of the Army, [my friend] was like, ‘Hey, do you want to be a barber?’ I was like ‘sure,’ because I wanted to be a rock ’n’ roll star. But that wasn’t working out so that’s how I became a barber. I just wanted to make enough money to move to Nashville. But, I got married, had kids and joined the community here and it’s been 31 years and I love it.
“We’re running at about 40% right now. That’s brutal. We had two months of no payments, the government not helping out and now we’re at 40%.
“The people are running with their emotions and not the data. You need to be sympathetic to those people, even though you know the data. I want to get paid.
“Being self-employed is harder than a person who gets a salary because then you can collect unemployment. Being self-employed, we can’t collect unemployment, until they told us a month in that we could, but I still couldn’t get it. We’re still trying to figure that out, but it’s not working. It would be helpful to have some of that money because they did put me out of business for a couple of months.
“We close an hour early now on Saturday because we feel like it’s not helpful to be open that late. I don’t know how to make people feel comfortable. We’re wearing masks, we’re taking all the precautions, but I don’t know how.
“There are people I do talk to that used to come in here and will once the virus ends. But they’re like, ‘Oh yeah. My wife is cutting my hair.’ I know you’re going to the grocery store. This place is definitely more sanitary than those places. We have a degree in sanitation. That’s part of our license. We do understand all that.
“It was frustrating. The people who did have degrees in sanitation were not allowed to work. I understand what they felt they needed to do, so we did that.
“I wish there was some magic word, but I don’t know what that is. We’re wearing masks; we’re doing all the protocols.”
“Nobody owns [the shop]. We’re all self-employed. I’ve been here the longest. My father was a barber here, so when my dad retired I took his spot. It’s been in the family since 1950.
“[COVID-19] set us back financially a lot. But it set everybody back. It’s also killing Libertyville. The downtown is dead. It’s sad. You look out there now and there’s nobody on the streets. People are still afraid of what this virus can do.
“I was the only one that got the Paycheck Protection Program loan. [The five other employees] couldn’t get through. My banker pulled a string somehow and got through.
“We’re down 40 to 50% in customers and income and it’s not really flying back. We have a little overhead compared to restaurants. We can withstand it longer, I hope.
“[Reopening] went fairly easy. Brad’s wife and my niece came down here and organized the customers to come so we were able to keep them outside so when five were done, five came in. We were busy for two weeks and then the bottom fell off. People are still scared.
“A lot of people won’t come in because people think were so busy and think the shop is full of people. [Customers] are worried about other people being in here. Someone doesn’t have a mask on; the other guy says he’s crazy. It’s all over the map but that’s part of the problem. People tell us they just buzz their own head.
“[Restrictions] hurt, but what’s hurting us is people are scared of the virus. And if 30% of your customers are elderly, they’re not coming out. I don’t know what they can do to make people more calm and relaxed.”
Brad Nelson and Cully Vojtech
Liberty Barber Shop