Let’s hope he’s the only corona that makes a comeback.
Jose Corona, 46, said he’s relieved to reopen his Jackson Heights barbershop — both for himself and the community.
“The barbershop is a part of the community where people come to get a haircut, some advice, or just someone to talk to,” he said. “[Before coronavirus] people would be hanging out, shooting the s–t and drinking a beer.”
His regulars at Corona Barbershop Plus have missed that, as well as his expertise.
“Barbershops are an essential thing to someone’s look. It makes you feel fresher or cleaner, like back to life. You’re not looking like a hobo,” said Roger Velasquez, 41, who has been getting his hair trimmed by Corona for 22 years. Returning for a fresh cut, he said, “it feels like things are getting back to normal.”
Corona admitted, however, that things aren’t quite the way they were.
“Business is okay, but I wouldn’t say it’s back to normal,” he said.
But he’s found a creative way to protect his customers and employees: installing $ 1,300 worth of dividers to isolate each of the seven chairs. Otherwise, the barbers would have had to stagger their schedules in order to socially distance, further hurting their income.
Corona is proud that he’s been able to bring back all six subcontracted barbers, especially since his landlord declined to give him a $ 500 reduction on his $ 4,500 monthly rent payment during the four months the shop was closed.
“I filed for free food and unemployment, and that helped me a little bit,” said Corona, who also received an SBA loan. “That was some sense of relief. It was very frustrating, the uncertainty of not knowing if things would even go back to normal.”
To help cover the additional costs — including $ 400 for a professional cleaner to disinfect the shop before reopening, a practice he plans to continue every month — Corona raised the price of haircuts by $ 5. The haircut prices are staggered by age. Kids, young adults and adult shears are now $ 20, $ 25 and $ 30, respectively.
“We’re wearing facial masks and gloves, have hand sanitizer as soon as you come in, and have thermometers to take people’s temperatures,” he said.
He opened his shop in 2001, about four years after giving his first cut.
It all started after Corona — who described himself as a “hothead” in his youth — was fired from a maintenance company. He was hanging out at a barbershop run by his cousin, when a friend ran in needing a quick clean-up. But all the professional barbers were with other customers.
“He said, ‘Just grab the clippers and clean the back of my neck real quick,’” Corona said.
From there, he started to work for his cousin, learning the trade for a year before he and another barber were “let go.”
“The [other] barber opened a shop a few blocks away and I went to work for him for three years,” Corona said.
But that damaged his relationship with his cousin, who didn’t speak to him until tragedy brought them together in 2001.
“We finally spoke at my mother’s funeral. He told me his shop was for sale and he was moving to Florida,” Corona said. “I had some money put away, and my father was able to loan me some money. I went into business with another barber who worked at the shop with me.”
“We did a private haircut on a rooftop since he wasn’t able to open the shop — more of like the friends and family kind of thing,” Velasquez said. “He spaced it out so nobody else was on the roof besides me and him.”
Corona is very ready for things to truly return to normal, but says he sees that his customers still have pain to work through — and he’s happy to give them a place to do it with friends.
“People are traumatized.” Now, he said, “It’s not that [the old barbershop culture] is not still going on somewhat, but it’s not the same. When you have a lot of people together, you’re going to hear of a lot of people who died.”
For now, Corona added, face masks dampen some of the normal chatter, especially as beard grooming — formerly an in-demand service — is not allowed. Still, there’s a semblance of the old times.
“The barbershop is a beacon of our community, where everyone comes feeling tired from work and stressed from everyday life and its struggles, and leaves feeling refreshed,” Corona said. “It’s the best and cheapest form of therapy.”
And even with all the virus has done, one thing won’t change: the name of Corona Barbershop Plus.
Said the owner: “You’d have to be really ignorant to think that the name of the business could hurt.”