CAMDEN, NJ — Two days before Gov. Phil Murphy decided to close down all barbershops and beauty salons to cull the spread of COVID-19 in New Jersey on March 19, Camden salon owner Maria Ozuna had already made that call.
“It affected me economically of course but the health of my employees, my customers, myself and my family was more important,” Ozuna told TAPinto Camden on Monday. “I wasn’t surprised when the mandate came down to close. For me, everything has been about being proactive.”
She is one of many "non-essential" business owners in the city whose ability to function has been indefinitely put to a halt unlike others that can operate under a set of regulations.
Ozuna has owned Decisions Beauty Salon in Camden for over 20 years. She said she's had to take further steps to limit community spread, within her own power.
“It of course depresses me a lot and I’ve stayed connected with clients over the phone but only to a point...before you know it they want you to make a house call,” Ozuna said. “That’s just not safe. One friend said it was her daughter’s birthday. I told her she had to figure out another option.”
She said she hasn’t quite figured out the financial losses she’s having to face, and is doubly worried for her nine or so employees.
“They’re not getting paid and this is going to last longer. How long? We don’t know,” Ozuna said.
At the moment, Ozuna has been practicing social distancing by staying home and only leaving if it’s an emergency. She said she’s getting over a cough, but that no one in her household has tested positive for the coronavirus so far.
Jorge Maldonado, the owner of Barbernado’s Barbering Lounge in East Camden, describes his barbershop as “vibrant.”
“Since I opened up in 2014, I have created the atmosphere. Upbeat music, no profanity, conversations about sports or politics, or music...everything. I always read the room and my job is to make it inviting so no matter who wants to come by they can,” he said.
His shop has been everything but in the past two weeks — but through no fault of his own.
Maldonado, who moved to Camden when he was 6 and currently lives in Burlington County with wife and three kids, like many barbershop owners in Camden locked up earlier this month.
That day, he sent a message out on Facebook, detailing the closures, promising updates and closing it with, "Stay safe, healthy, vigilant, and in communion with God."
Maldonado said he’s also heard of barbers in town who are visiting homes or having customers come over to them.
“I have advised against it and personally, because I do cut hair too, will not make any visits to anyone's home,” Maldonado said. “But there are barbers, like anybody right now not considered ‘essential,’ who need to take care of the people they have at home — whether that’s mortgages or rent or other payments, and it’s tough. These guys want to keep money coming in somehow.”
Maldonado said even in the event that a barber takes safety precautions when cutting hair, his mere traveling at a time when the city is in a state of emergency is “a bad idea.”
He noted that safety equipment like masks and gloves should currently be prioritized toward medical personnel, anyway.
Both Ozuna and Maldonado said they plan to look into any federal or state resources to help them maintain their businesses in the city.
Being forced to close has also meant adjusting his daily habits, Maldonado said, so to this day he aims to wake up early and create a To-Do List.
“Just to have a sense of purpose,” he continued, “mentally it's affecting me too."