After being forced to close for the third time in a year, what Jean-Gardy Faustin misses most about his job is the human connection.
"The social side," he said without hesitation. "We talk with our clients about their problems, their partners, what's going on — there are things only the hairdressers know."
Faustin opened Faustino Coiffure, a salon in Quebec City's Saint-Sacrement neighborhood, in February of last year. He was forced to close just a month later when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Since then, the Quebec City region has passed in and out of the red alert level twice more, including in March, when it was made an orange zone for just 11 days. Now, the region is under even stricter emergency measures, which the province is calling "deep red."
"I had a lot of appointments booked for the week of May 3, in the hopes that we would be open," Faustin said. "But Mr. Legault decided otherwise, so I had to cancel them all again."
Faustin said everyone has been patient and understanding when he's had to reschedule, but the bills are piling up, and he doesn't qualify for most federal loans because he opened the salon just shortly before the pandemic hit.
He's eligible for some personal government benefits, but said it's not nearly enough to cover his bills.
Three years in the making, a business now on the brink
Meanwhile, Zico Zuhairi stands on the verandah of his barber shop, Barbier les Rois, on a commercial street in Quebec City's Loretteville suburb. A 'closed' sign hangs in the window.
Zuhairi used to work at a salon down the street, but three years ago he rented this storefront property and struck out on his own.
"I have everything — kids, adults, older people," he said. "I cut their hair, they're happy, but this has been very hard."
Zuhairi had his best year ever in 2019. But then his fortunes turned.
When the pandemic hit, he had just gone through a divorce; he had daycare bills and the rent on his shop to pay, but no revenue.
At one point, he organized zoom lessons for his clients, who were calling in desperate need of advice. He charged a fee, and demonstrated haircutting techniques so people could cut their own hair at home.
While Zuhairi was giving away some professional secrets, he needed the money. But after closing and reopening twice, he said it's getting harder to get people back in his barber's chair.
"Some people just decided to cut their own hair," he said. "Some people were scared to come to the salon because of COVID-19."
Zuhairi applied for the federal benefits to get him through the tougher periods, but it's only a drop in the bucket.
"Nine hundred dollars every two weeks, that is nothing," he said, adding no matter what happens, he's locked into a three-year lease.
"My rent is $1,400, and my savings are almost gone."
Zuhairi said he used have a lot of plans when "I was saving money to buy a house, a nice car, get a vacation with the kids. But right now, I have to start from the beginning again."
Salon owners say they need a break
Across town, Faustin has already started thinking he might have to close his salon for good if Quebec City stays in the red, a decision many of his colleagues have already made.
"I'm at a point where I can't keep paying for a salon that's not open," he said.
The salon owner said he wonders whether some sort of compromise is possible to allow him to open while adhering to stricter guidelines.
"For those of us who are having a really hard time, that would give us a little bit of insurance, a way to survive," he said.
His colleague Teri Goudreault, a hairdresser at Faustino Coiffure, said finances have been a "constant worry" this year, despite cutting back on expenses wherever possible.
She also said she believes her trade should be an essential service.
"I think it's important to feel good," Goudreault said. "It's about confidence."
She said it is contradictory to allow massages, but not haircuts.
When asked if she's optimistic about reopening after May 9 when the region is set to loosen some restrictions, Goudreault held up crossed fingers and said, "'I really hope so."
"I think people are looking forward to getting back to normal — a new normal, but normal."