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Dublin: 15°C Thursday 5 August 2021

'Flat out until June': Queues for long-awaited haircuts amid sense that normality is returning

Non-essential retail and personal services are among the business reopening today

Reception in Brown Sugar as businesses reopen.
Reception in Brown Sugar as businesses reopen.
Image: The Journal

‘FLAT OUT UNTIL mid-June’ is how Pamela Brennan describes bookings for the Brown Sugar hairdressers in Blackrock.

Brennan is manning reception today, a relentless task that requires not only fielding near-constant calls for cuts and colours but also taking people’s temperature on the way in.

This journalist fortunately passed the temperature check but was unfortunately not able to be squeezed in for a quick back and sides.

Instead, it was a case of chatting to the stylists, who are more than anything relieved to be back at work, and grabbing a word with the women lucky enough to get a slot.

Some customers were relaxing and enjoying the hospitality while others were working away on phones and laptops while their hair was getting sorted.

A couple of people were supposed to be at work and decided they best keep to themselves.

Laura, who does speak briefly, says her usual stylist is in the Ranelagh branch but that it was booked up for the next five weeks.

“The last time I was there was the first week in December. So I haven’t had my hair cut in five months. Ranelagh just had 15 June available so I searched here and there must have been a cancellation or something as there was this spot for 10 o’clock Monday morning.

It’s only a cut though, nothing fancy. I’ll do my work and then collect my daughter from her tennis club which is also back today.

The salon is laid out over two floors, with separate rooms in the basement for hair-washing and blow-drying.

Overall, masks aside, it all felt quite normal. You’d hardly even notice the plexiglass screens so familiar are they these days.

20210510_101910 Source: The Journal

Stylist Lauren O’Connell says it’s been lovely to pick things back up even though it’s only the first day back.

“Being back is great, it feels like we’ve never been away and I’m back only an hour, just to have a bit of atmosphere.

It just feels like home coming into work and just seeing different people.

“There’s some dodgy colours alright and people want to get those sorted. Then there’s some people who just want to come in for the bit of fun and the craic. It’s been really nice to hear people who have actually waited six months and haven’t go their hair done at home because they want to see us.”

O’Connell, who’s been with Brown Sugar for five years and a hairdresser for 10, says not being able to work was difficult.

“It was just about trying to go out on walks and generally trying to keep busy.”

With bookings now in place for the next two weeks and most of the next month, the salon is running six days a week from 8am to 8pm.

It’s the job of chief operations officer Patrick Moloney to get this salon and the five others in the Sugar Culture Hairdressing Group up and running for the big reopening.

He says being closed has enabled them to do some renovations and they hope it’ll all be worth it.

Right now, capacity is essentially halved with two-metre social distancing in place.

When the initial rush of bookings dies down the challenge is to keep the business profitable. He says this is possible with government supports but when those supports taper off they will then need to increase their capacity.

At that point, reducing social distancing down to one metre will help. 

imageedit_1_7779325533 Blackrock in Dublin. Source: The Journal

Brown Sugar is located in the middle of Blackrock where there’s somewhat of a cluster of hairdressers. Grafton Barbers is one such salon that’s running a tight ship, with men coming and going throughout the morning.

The nearby Donnybrook branch had queues around the corner when this reporter was passing but there were only a couple of men waiting here. 

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Unlike Brown Sugar there’s no fancy reception but there is a 30-minute time slot per customer, which is “nice and manageable”, barber Matthew Ridge tells The Journal.

“The boss was on top of it from last week taking bookings, so everything was ready. We just had to come in today to set up and we’re ready to go.”

Much like his colleague over in the other salon, he’s also glad to be back at work.

I was losing my mind like every one, nearly losing my hair from trying to keep going. Just going for walks with family, things like that, but it’s good to be back.

There were several happy customers too. One such freshly-trimmed patron called Gareth said things were getting serious for his mop.

“I’m myself again now, I was properly close to Phil Lynott before today. Even the barber struggles with my hair so it wasn’t an option for me to do it myself. This was grand though, no queues in and out and it’s good to be back to normal.”

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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