In 40 years in the barbering business, Deb Gardetto has never experienced a workday quite like Wednesday.
At 9 a.m., Gardetto received a phone call from a customer, confirming his mid-afternoon appointment at her Main Street Barber shop on East Main Street. Concerns about possible closures over the COVID-19 virus were the reason for the call, but Gardetto assured the customer his 3:20 p.m. appointment was good to go.
By 2 p.m., she called the customer back to relay a change of plans.
“A policeman came in about 1:20 and said I had to close,” Gardetto said. “I book appointments weeks in advance. I don’t know if I’ll be able to call all these people by the end of today.”
On Thursday morning, Gardetto was back on the phone, to tell the unlucky customer who missed his appointment that was she back in business and available to reschedule.
In an unusual course of events fitting of the times, the Watertown Police Department reversed course on a policy which temporarily called for all barbershops and hair salons in Watertown to close.
A statement issued by the police department on its Facebook page at 5:49 p.m. on Wednesday read, “Hair salons can stay open! There was an order to close, we followed it and started messaging accordingly. The parts of the order we were applying were about the max of 10 people and keeping people six feet apart. The clarification came out today (Wednesday) clearing that salons are exempt and we stopped messaging and gathered to make a decision. The decision at this time is to allow salons to remain open.
“This is fluid and can change depending on the direction from the state. Business owners can make their own decision to stay open or not for their health or the health of their customers. We apologize for the continual change; we are doing our best to remain in compliance with the changing directives from the state.”
At Great Clips on Church St., hairstylists were back to work on Thursday, and were observing practices already put in place by the company prior to the 24-hour stoppage. Two stylists are on duty during business hours, and no more than two customers can come in at a time. If there’s a backlog, customers are asked to wait outside of the building until one of the stylists has finished with their latest customer.
Gardetto sees customers one at a time by appointment. Occasionally, a customer shows up a few minutes early and waits for their turn.
When the officer arrived on Wednesday, she was in the middle of an appointment.
“I was cutting a gentleman’s hair and an officer came in,” Gardetto said. “I joked, you need a haircut? He’s bald. He said, ‘No, not good news.’ He said ‘We’re shutting all the barbershops and salons down.’ When? ‘Effective immediately.’ I said, well, I’ve got to finish this guy’s hair. He said, not a problem.
“I finished the hair. Then I went into a panic mode. I started to trying to call people. I changed the answering machine message, and went home to go print up a sign that we’re closed.”
The police department informed Gardetto that it was attempting to follow Wisconsin Department of Health Services guidelines. Later in the day, an officer called to inform Gardetto that her business could re-open.
“An officer called and stated there was some form of mistake, a misunderstanding, and you are able to be open the following day,” Gardetto said. “That’s it. That’s where it was left. It was kind of weird, a little scary weird. I don’t blame them, but it was a little unnerving.”
During the temporary shutdown, a couple of Gardetto’s customers asked if she would be willing to do appointments at home, but she said that wouldn’t be legal. She won’t have to field any more questions like that, for the time being. For a small business owner, it was a huge relief.
“Absolutely,” Gardetto said. “A lot of us, we do live paycheck to paycheck. I’m the only one person here. Like anybody else, I’ve got a mortgage. To get a hold of customers, having to say I might be closed (was stressful).
“I was very concerned for the customers. Basically, it hits hard for all of us, and I did end (the answering machine message) with, ‘God Bless all of you, and stay safe.’ I didn’t know how many days I was going to be closed. I’ve got a great group of men and some women that come in here who understood. We’re all good now, unless it changes. This was a little hiccup for my business, but I am open and I am glad I can get to the customers and make them happy.”