While the announcement came today that the provincial government is giving the okay to Quebec beauty and hair salons to reopen outside of Montreal and Joliette, hairdressers in this city remain closed. No one knows how much longer they’ll have to wait to get back in business, and how much longer the rest of us will go without a pro cut or colour. Before being temporarily shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic in March, MonoKrome Salon had been open on Rachel East in the Plateau for nine years. Co-owners (and husband and wife) Marek Whitechurch and Katia Jananji employed three additional Montreal hairdressers (who they’ve had to let go, for now) and had plans to expand — plans that, of course, are presently on hold. We spoke to them about what they’ve been going through as hairdressers, as small-business owners and what the future of hair salons might look like, for better or worse.
Nico Ogilvy: Aside from the obvious lack of revenue coming in from MonoKrome, what is your biggest challenge right now?
Katia Jananji: As a business owner, you want to be able to plan. For us, not having any idea of when we’ll be able to open is very hard. You don’t know if it’s worth it. Are we putting ourselves in too much debt? Are we going to be able to rehire our staff? It’s a very scary feeling right now.
Marek Whitechurch: Watching the money go out of the bank slowly is like watching everything we’ve built for the last nine years crumbling away, through no fault of our own. We got the $40,000 loan for small businesses but I don’t feel like the government has helped small businesses as much as they could have. We spend a lot of money on taxes and we don’t get tax breaks. The (municipal) government gets really good money from small mom-and-pop shops up and down the high street in Montreal.
NO: We’ve seen some hair salons reopen in other countries with virus-prevention measures. What do you foresee doing yourselves?
KJ: The clients are going to have to wear masks, and we’re going to wear masks and visors. Besides that it’s basically disinfecting everything, every tool. Between every client we’re going to have a 20-minute gap just to make sure everything is sanitized.
MW: We’ll be working longer hours for less money. The shop is quite a small and we used to work with five staff and five chairs. Now we’re going to start with myself and Katia and four chairs, to create an area where people can walk through. We ordered hand sanitizer, some masks, visors and gloves, but all that costs money, and trying to find a plexiglass in Montreal at the moment it’s like trying to find gold.
NO: There’s been a lot of talk on social media about people cutting their own hair, with mixed results. Have your friends and MonoKrome clients been reaching out to you for tips?
KJ: It’s too difficult for cuts but for colours, definitely. It’s kind of hard for us, because you want to keep it for professional. All we keep saying is try to hold on. We see a lot of videos of people online cutting their own hair and really regretting it. But the good thing is we don’t go out, everybody’s kind of indoors so everybody looks like crap (laughs).
MW: There’s a good thing going around on social media as well called “show us your roots” it’s all about clients who are proud that they’ve actually got roots and they’re waiting for their hairdressers (to reopen), which I think is quite a cool thing.
The other thing about reopening for small businesses like ours, or coffee shops or whatever, is that even though everyone says, “Oh, you’re going to be busy when everything comes back, everybody’s going to need a haircut,” yes that might happen for the first week, but some of our clients are over 60, some are a bit younger. We’re probably not going to have a lot of kids around here because of the social distancing, and a lot of our clients lost their jobs as well and don’t have any money anymore.
I think a lot of people are going to have a bit more respect for hairdressers now. You know, when you go to the hairdresser you feel good, you have a chat. It’s kind of a social thing but it’s therapeutic — you feel good, you look beautiful.
KJ: It’s crazy how much you miss your clients. I have clients I’ve been seeing every week for 20 years, more than my mom, you get attached to those people and you miss them.
MW: For 25 or 30 years, I’ve been doing hair — that’s the only thing I know. It’s so odd ’cause I’m such a social person. I love being with people, and the actual dynamic of a hairdresser, that’s what it is, and for now it’s been taken away. But socially, this could be an amazing experience later on. A lot of people are going to really respect talking to people, being nice to people, the social contact of hugging people — all the things we can’t do right now. ■
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(Montreal hairdressers wait for their turn to reopen)