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Barbarossa, an NYC Barbershop's Fight to Stay Open

Updated: Dec 6, 2020


The front door to Barbarossa

Photographer: Pamela Perez

Many barbershops have been impacted by COVID-19. Sadly, many have already been forced to close. But for the ones that stay open, how are they maintaining their monthly quota? What specific restrictions due to COVID-19 are affecting their businesses the most?

Fortunately, I was able to speak with the owner of a barbershop in the Upper East Side, Barbarossa. One of my group members works in this shop as a receptionist and was kind enough to schedule an interview with Roberto Patane, the owner of Barbarossa. When I arrived, I was warmly greeted by him and offered a cup of coffee from the espresso machine in the back of the shop.

We sat down together on a bench near the window, outside I could see the cars passing by and the empty chairs and tables at the restaurants across the street. We talked a little about how much the city has changed due to COVID and how dead the streets are now compared to before.

I asked him about how long his business has been open for and he replied with a smile "About four years ago, we first opened our doors on October 15, 2017 and have been growing ever since." We also spoke about his other two partners, Pietro and Emanuel. He explained how they have been working together in other barber shops for over 20 years.

Feeling like we have gotten to know each other more, I pulled out my notebook and pen and began asking him questions regarding the effect this pandemic has had on his business:

1. How did COVID negatively affect your business?

After the pandemic, business went from 100% to 30%. All of the clients moved away, to quarantine outside NYC; typically in the Hamptons. Unfortunately, we were still required to pay rent but we had savings to make do. However, with business being down I am not sure how long it will last. Had business not picked up we would have had to close the shop.

2. Is your business open full or part time?

Our Shop is now open full time, 7 days a week from 7am-6:30pm but some days we close as early as 4pm due to lack of business. We went from having 100 customers a day to about 20 a day.

Owner Patane with a client

Photographer: Pamela Perez

4. Where you able to keep all your staff?

Yes, fortunately

3. Did business increase after quarantine?

At first business was very slow and I was worried if we were going to make ends meet. I was forced to shorten the hours of my staff. As business picked up, we were able to give more hours but where unfortunately not back to where we were before this pandemic.

Patane's haircutting tools

Photographer: Pamela Perez

4. How did it affect you individually?

I like many people in the world have been personally affected in many different ways but for me, I suffered a very deep loss. My mother passed away from COVID-19 (age), my father also contracted the virus but fortunately he has made a full recovery due to some amazing nurses and doctors at Lenox Hill Hospital. My prayers go out to anyone who has lost someone due to this virus.

5. What specific restrictions due to COVID-19 are affecting your business the most?

Due to the fact everyone has to wear mask in places of business were now unable to offer our popular services such as beard trims, shaves and hot towels. Which means I had to turn away potential customers due to the fact that they weren't wearing masks, or they wanted services that required their mask to be removed.

Owner Roberto Patane with a client

Photographer: Pamela Perez


Innovation in the face of adversity

Gift Cards and Masks

Photographer: Pamela Perez

An hour had passed since I first arrived at the shop and I had come to see clients come and go in the shop. I began to wonder about the methods he took to keep his store alive in these difficult times. Adjusting my notebook, I got ready to ask some more questions.

6. What have you done to help make rent while your business was down?

Fortunately, we had some money saved up for rainy days like these but it wasn't enough for the four months we were closed for. I came up with the idea to have online gift cards available for our clients. We sent them am email informing them of our struggles and offered them the gift card as a way to have some incoming money. I was astonished to see that we had gotten about $10,000 in the next few days. This helped keep us afloat until we were able to open up again. We also sell masks at our store.

7. How did you deal with the clients who have moved out of the city?

Since a lot of our clients moved into their vacation homes in the Hamptons or upstate, we have been spending many days just sitting down waiting for people to come in. I couldn't stand the mind-numbing boredom of just watching my days go by doing nothing, so I spoke to my partners about doing "home" visits for our clients who left the city for $100 per haircut. Since the weather was nice at the time we reopened, we were able to give haircuts in our clients backyards. We even groomed some of their dogs. A new problem I'm experiencing is that a lot of our clients are now moving to Florida. Unfortunately, I am not able to go give haircuts down in Florida.

8. Do you have anymore solutions in mind that you haven't tried yet?

I actually do! Due to us being on the second floor, we don't get as much foot traffic as we would if we were on the first floor. The amount of walk-ins we get have decreased due to the pandemic as well. Many people are afraid to enter our establishment; even our own clients aren't comfortable with coming in. So, an idea I came up with is having a barber chair in a tent outside, similar to the outdoor dining tents. Since winter is approaching, I plan on having heaters in the tents to keep them warm. Although, I still have figure out what I'm going to do regarding the chair. I wouldn't be able to leave it outdoors once we close and it's quite heavy so it'll be hard to move. I also have to think about the amount it'll cost to set up the tent.

Without noticing, my time to go had crept up on me and it was time to say my goodbye's. Before Patane's next client arrived, I thanked him for his time and bid farewell to the rest of the barbers in the shop.

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