Pete Helow watched his daily customer count drop from a high of 58 a few weeks ago to the 20s and then to seven March 22 at his high-end San Marco barbershop.
On March 23, he notified booked clients that he decided to close Roosters Men’s Grooming Center at 6 p.m. and remain closed until at least April 7. They had time for a last-minute cut.
“It doesn’t make sense to stay open,” Helow said March 23. “I would lose less money closed than by staying open.”
Customers took shelter amid the global spread of COVID-19.
Helow opened the franchise at 2000 Hendricks Ave. in October 2017. He intends to reopen when Gov. Ron DeSantis and Mayor Lenny Curry say it’s safe to do so.
His six stylists and barbers, who work on commission, already had limited their services to haircuts. They dropped facials, beard trimming and shaves. One already went home.
“If they are not cutting hair, they are not making money,” said Helow, who will pay his staff $275 a week – what they would qualify for unemployment – for the next two weeks and then reassess.
He stands to lose $30,000 to $40,000 in revenue each month he is closed.
Helow, 68, will live off savings and Social Security, and he still has bills to pay: Utilities, rent and the other costs of renting space and running a business, as well as personal expenses.
He’s a member of the San Marco Merchants Association, which canceled events. Many of his business neighbors on popular and historic San Marco Square closed temporarily.
“If you’ve not been to the Square, it’s a ghost town. You can get a parking place anyplace you want,” he said of the area where visitors often circled blocks or parked in surrounding neighborhoods.
Helow also is president of the Rotary Club of San Marco and keeps in touch with members through a weekly email.
Helow said that as a business owner for more than 40 years, he’s never put a plan in place for a shutdown of the country.
“No one alive today has ever experienced anything like this,” he said. “Hurricane – yes. No power – yes. Downturn in the economy – yes. But never a pandemic,” he said.
Helow said that with no revenue, business owners have one option and that is to reduce expenses as much as possible and rely on past profits or commercial loans and lines of credit to hold the business over until revenue starts to flow again.
“I am fortunate with the business I chose to open 2½ years ago. My customers will still need my services when the crisis is over.”
When the time comes, he expects the barbers and stylists to return because they developed loyal clients.
“As soon as we are allowed to reopen, we will reopen,” Helow said.
“Then we will see an influx of guys who are really shaggy, or we will be fixing some really bad haircuts,” he said, guessing some might let their significant others take a whack at it.