Mimi Bell, owner of a barbershop in Savannah, Ga., says that while haircuts themselves are not an essential service during the COVID-19 pandemic, she feels a responsibility to stay open to provide support for her employees.
In a video series TIME is producing with Katie Couric, Bell tells Couric that she closed her shop, Bell Barber Co., on March 27 and stayed shut down for about a month, as cases of COVID-19 grew across the United States.
Closing down came with several challenges, including Bell’s staff worrying about being able to pay their bills and trying to access unemployment insurance. Of the six barbers at the shop, only one was successful in getting unemployment, Bell says. Bell has applied for a grant to help small businesses and for assistance through the Paycheck Protection Program, but did not receive approval for either service.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to allow some business owners to resume operations beginning Friday was both a scary and welcoming piece of news to Bell, who decided to reopen her shop.
“I was scared. I still am scared,” she says. “But I was also excited because we could get back to work.”
Bell tells Couric that shop employees are taking what safety measures they can and trying to keep up with social distancing rules as much as possible—except when services are actually being provided to customers. The shop is open during limited hours and is not offering facial shaves, beard trims or shampooing services. Clients are pouring in for haircuts, according to Bell, and appointments at the shop are currently fully booked.
“We are taking extra steps to try and be as safe as possible,” she says. “We hope that we can continue to make them feel safe while they’re getting their hair cut.”
This interview is part of a special series produced in collaboration with Katie Couric. Read more from TIME Reports with Katie Couric, and sign up for her weekday morning newsletter Wake-Up Call with Katie Couric.