Salons open as Auckland marks 100 days in lockdown

Ben Leahy and Craig Kapitan, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 25 Nov 2021, 11:15AM
Alice Gray gets her hair cut from Hakan Altan, the owner of Hedzabove salon in Kohimaramara. (Photo / Michael Craig)
Alice Gray gets her hair cut from Hakan Altan, the owner of Hedzabove salon in Kohimaramara. (Photo / Michael Craig)

Salons open as Auckland marks 100 days in lockdown

Ben Leahy and Craig Kapitan, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 25 Nov 2021, 11:15AM

Hairdresser Hakan Altan is unsheathing his scissors for the first time in more than three months this morning as he expects to do battle with a range of wild, unkempt mullets. 

The Hedzabove hair salon owner in Kohimarama, in Auckland's inner east, opened his doors at 7am today - one of hundreds of city hairdressers reopening for the first time since the latest Delta Covid outbreak hit New Zealand on August 17. 

Today marks 100 days since Auckland was plunged back into lockdown and the long weeks have left Aucklanders with no chance of a trim, colouring or style. 

That has raised fears mullets, such as the Billy Ray Cyrus, the David Bowie and Jean-Claude Van Damme, may be out there. 

"You have a lot of crazy styles, I'll be trying to fix all the mullets," Altan joked. 

For Altan and Aucklanders in general, the reopening of hair salons marks an important step towards returning to normalcy. 

Back in business on day 100 in strict lockdown 

At Happy Barber, at the Birkenhead Village shopping area, Mustafa Wasta said he was a bit frazzled this morning. 

He had opened the shop at 6am, excited to be back at work after a 100-day drought, but was already encountering frustration with the new system by 8am. 

"I have a booking and everything, but now I have a problem because the internet is down in the shop," he said, pointing to the unanswered messages building up on his cellphone. 

With walk-ins no longer permitted, the phone issue was proving to be a major hurdle for the first day back. 

"It's very hard for me," he said. 

However, the new scanning-in system and vaccination requirement was working smoothly, he said, explaining that no one had showed up in the first two hours of business without a vaccine pass. 

"If my brother is coming without this [pass], I'll not do it," he said as his namesake smile crept back. 

He plans to stay open until about 7pm today, putting in a 13-hour day of meeting back up with customers - all of whom seem to be "100 per cent" excited after 100 days. 

Faithful customer gets first spot after 100 days 

At the nearby Boutique Hair Salon, Kathleen Novak was enjoying a spot of honour - the very first customer after 100 days. 

Stylist Shannon Grange said she was offered the prized spot as she is one of their most faithful clients. 

Novak has been going to the salon for about 40 years. 

Sitting next to her also getting a haircut this morning was her husband, John Novak, who was in good spirits about scoring the second spot even if it was made clear his wife was the guest of honour. 

"My manager came first," he joked. "I'm the worker in the family and I can [go] second." 

Grange said the salon will be fully booked until 8pm today. She and her co-worker will put in staggered hours so that the business isn't too crowded. 

"We're putting in breaks so we can change out our masks and PPE," she said. "We'll be open every day until Christmas just so we can clear all out backlog." 

Beards not included in salon services just yet 

Over at Bespoke Barbers and Vintage, owner Paul Bartolo and his new employee worked side-by-side inside as socially-distanced customers stood outside. 

"We're pretty excited about being here," he said, explaining that the business has 260 people booked in for cuts. 

"The minute it was released, my phone just blew up," he said of the Monday announcement that barbers and hairdressers would be allowed to open earlier than initially planned. 

"My kids said: 'Dad, you're famous'." 

Bartolo said he was initially hesitant as he put in a booking system two years ago, but it turned out to be "the best thing we did". 

For the time being, as his customers rush back all at once, Bartolo is doing up to 19 haircuts a day. 

"After that, you're pretty much burned," he said, saying he expects it to remain that busy up until Christmas. 

"I think everyone's just really pleased to get a haircut, to be honest - if not for the haircut then for the chat as well." 

So far, he said, the vaccination proof and scanning has gone off without a hitch. 

"We were all kind of nervous about that initially. It's the kind of thing you don't normally think about." 

He remains a bit nervous about understanding what will be permitted and when. For now, the business is not providing beard cuts, which about 30 per cent of its clients usually request. 

Will they be allowed during the traffic light system, and during what colour? Bartolo says he doesn't know. 

Hair salons have been chosen to open early - before other businesses also deemed as being higher risk for the transmission of Covid - so the Government can trial its new vaccine pass app. 

The passes will play a pivotal role in New Zealand society. 

With the country moving away from lockdowns, each pass will act as proof the person holding it has had both their Pfizer jabs. 

They will be needed to enter most bars, cafes and hairdressers under the Government's new Covid management traffic light system as well as all music festivals, rugby games and major events. 

While Auckland bars, cafes and restaurants will reopen and begin using the passes on from 11.59pm on December 2, when the nation moves into the traffic light system, hairdressers are rapt to be opening earlier as part of the trial. 

Deputy PM Grant Robertson said hairdressers and barbers had been chosen because they had a smaller number of people in their salons than a busy restaurant, for example. 

"I'm very happy, it's been too long, three months," Altan said. 

"The Government tried to help us, but it's not been good enough." 

He said he expected to work until possibly 7pm or 8pm tonight. 

"With Christmas so close, it has been crazy booking everyone," he said. 

Kelly Melvin, owner of HairFit in Ponsonby, also said she is fully booked until Christmas. 

She spent yesterday organising bookings, putting up the salon Christmas tree and trying to get it feeling homely for her many regular customers. 

She can't afford to take a break in the Christmas lead-up after three months without an income. 

"It's been very tough," she said. 

Chantal Landais, owner of Chantal Landais Hair Studio in Herne Bay, agreed. 

"It doesn't matter how good and healthy your business is, not many businesses can sustain that sort of lockdown," she said. 

Like most other hairdressers, she spent the few days leading up to Thursday trying to sort out double bookings made online by desperate clients and ensuing everyone got an appointment. 

"People have been coming to me for 30 years, of course they are my dearest client but there is quite a few of those and they won't all fit in one week so they need to be spread out," she said. 

Landais said she had so far had to refuse three unvaccinated customers ringing up to ask if it would still be possible to get a cut. 

However, another hairdresser who didn't wish to be named said she won't be able to join her colleagues in reopening tomorrow. 

The woman lives in Northland but commutes into Takapuna where she runs her own salon. 

However, so far she had been refused an exemption to cross the Auckland border so she can start work again. 

"I'm fully vaxxed and desperate to get back to work," she said. 

She said if she has to wait until December 15 when the Auckland border restrictions are temporarily lifted, there is a good chance her customers - who have been waiting three months for a cut - will go to other hairdressers for a trim. 

She expected she wouldn't be the only hairdresser, or the only bar or cafe owner caught outside Auckland between December 2 - when bars and restaurants reopen - and December 15 when the border opens. 

The Herald has sought comment from the Ministry of Health. 

Like Altan and Melvin, Chantal Landais Hair Studio owner Landais, meanwhile, is trying her best to look to the future and get set for a long day behind the scissors and styling brush. 

"It's going to be mayhem because everyone is urgent, we know that, we can see that actually," she joked.