Steve “Thunder” Tumlin, the mayor of Marietta, Georgia, has added a haircut to his schedule Friday, and it seems he won’t have to travel far, as the owner of at least one local barbershop says he’ll be open and welcomes the business.
An unremarkable event in normal times, Tumlin’s plans were made in a show of support for Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s controversial decision to let businesses including barbershops and spas to reopen across the state on Friday, followed by the dining rooms of local restaurants on Monday.
Kemp on Wednesday refused to reverse course on his decision to let close-contact businesses restart on Friday, saying he wants to “protect the lives — and livelihoods — of all Georgians.”
The governor stood his ground even after President Donald Trump said he disagreed with Kemp’s move to roll back restrictions designed to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms expressed her disagreement with Kemp’s decision to re-open the state, claiming it will be “deadly” for many people in her community. “It concerns me deeply that we are still seeing an upward trend in our state and we are rushing to reopen businesses,” she
Tumlin, however, has made clear that he’s in Kemp’s corner. The mayor took to social media to share his Friday plans — a gym workout and a haircut — after Kemp’s announcement that he was loosening restrictions on some businesses. The mayor, like Kemp a Republican, also posted in a no-longer publicly visible post first reported by the Atlanta Journal Constitution that he would soon be eating three meals a day at Marietta restaurants.
Tumlin, the city’s mayor since 2010, did not return a request for comment. A spokesperson said in an email that Marietta is following Kemp’s reopening guidelines. As for Tumlin’s end-of-week personal grooming appointment, the spokesperson stated: “His plans may change, but at this point if he chooses to do so, according to the governor’s order Mayor Tumlin can get a haircut on Friday.”
“We’re at the bottom of the totem pole”
Y’Kheyo Underwood, owner of Marietta’s Good Look Barber Shop, is also on board with Kemp’s decision, saying his shop will reopen Friday with the safety of its staff and customers in mind. In business 12 years, Underwood already had plenty of gloves on hand and stocked up on masks at a local beauty supply store. Each work station is equipped with Lysol wipes and hand sanitizer, he said.
“I can remove every other waiting chair, if that amount of traffic comes in,” he said of social-distancing mandates to keep people at least six feet apart.
That said, he doesn’t expect crowds — or even all of his four employees — to return right away. “I don’t think it’ll be packed, the transition back to normalcy will take a little time. It shook people up,” Underwood said of the pandemic.
Underwood disagrees with critics of re-opening parts of the state’s economy. “Those complaining about reopening small businesses ‘so soon’ are either still getting paid by their companies or institutions while in the comfort of their own homes, or are retired,” he said. “I don’t think anybody that has gone through what I have gone through in my line of work, trying to stay afloat, during these ‘pandemic times’, is complaining. We, as in small, ‘non-essential’ businesses, are at the bottom of the totem pole, so no one cares.”
He said he is among the many small businesses that applied for, but did not receive, low-interest loan relief from the government. Underwood paid half the rent on his shop at the start of the month, “so I’m not digging myself too big a hole, and then after the shutdown I couldn’t pay the second half.”
Like many other small businesses, Underwood has limited options. “I had a few dollars in reserve that I’ve had to use,” he explained, saying he didn’t think he could pay the rent and keep a non-operating business going for more than a month and a half.
“We need to start making income, as soon as possible,” he said. “People are willing to take the risk of contracting the coronavirus just to pay the bills.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Marcia Sanders, a massage therapist who runs two therapeutic sites as a solo practitioner, one in Marietta, the other in nearby Hiram.
“When you have no money coming in, [re-opening] is a relief,” Sanders said of Kemp’s plan. Still, the lost income doesn’t sit well with her, and Sanders believes the process could have been handled differently from the start.
“I just feel like we could have worn masks” instead of shutting down, said Sanders, who disinfects her massage tables and face rests between customers. “So I’m hoping I’m OK. I wear a mask, clients wear a mask. I have everybody wash their hands. It’s a chance I take. I know people need me.”
Like Underwood, Sanders reports hitting a wall in applying for help from the U.S. Small Business Administration. “My bank told me they ran out of money,” said Sanders, in business 17 years.
Another small business in Marietta isn’t ready to reopen on Friday, according to a spokesperson for Barbearia Barber Shop.
“We are currently assessing our team’s emotional and financial state, taking inventory and inquiring about availability to purchase products and items we will need in order to maintain our shop sanitized and safe for our team and clients,” the Barbearia spokesperson said in an email. “With that being said, we are not ready to set an opening date. It is financially straining to be closed for this long, but we are trying to be very conscious about the safety of our team and clients.”