Barber Is Hopeful As Business Picks Up After COVID-19 Shutdown
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When Alexander Hakim moved to Cornelius from Florida, he looked around and noticed his new hometown didn’t have a place to get a haircut and a drink. So Hakim opened A Barber’s Cafe and Bar in 2016. The barbershop gives its clients free coffees and beers.
“It felt really good because my idea wasn’t here,” he said, adding that at the time, he thought, “I’m going to be the first to have this idea and establish this business.”
The business thrived, and he was in the process of moving to a new location when COVID-19 shut nearly everything down. When barbershops and salons reopened in May, business slowly returned.
“I used to get 200 clients a week, and we started only getting 100 or 90 clients," Hakim said. "Thank God the barbers trusted the business and didn’t leave. And now we have slowly been recovering. In July, we started getting 120, 130 clients weekly.”
While the barbershop was closed, Hakim looked for outside financial assistance. He credits Prospera, a nonprofit that supports Latino entrepreneurs, for helping him hold onto his business.
“Prospera helped me find grants and financing, and without that money, I would have closed," he said. "I’ve been able to provide for myself because of that.”
Latinos, alongside other underrepresented communities, have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Stanford University found 32% of Latino-owned businesses across the country closed between February and April 2020.
Underlying economic factors also have amplified the pandemic’s impact on Latino business owners. The head of Prospera’s North Carolina office, José David Alvarez, said limited services in Spanish and service providers who understand the Latino culture make it harder for Latino businesses to start up and thrive.
“The other barrier is lack of access to capital," Alvarez said. "A lot of these entrepreneurs are disadvantaged. They don’t know how to apply. They … might not have their documents in place, or they might not know how to even get their credit history started.”
Before COVID-19 hit, the Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, found Latinos were already suffering from higher unemployment rates, significant wage gaps and lower household incomes than their white counterparts.
North Carolina Director for the Hispanic Federation, Daniel Valdez, said the pandemic has simply exacerbated the issues the Latino community has been dealing with for years.
“There's a huge need in providing, in creating, a more robust infrastructure to serve the growing Latino community, as well, both in terms of language, but also in terms of cultural services and cultural competency," Valdez said. "And [COVID-19] has exposed a lot of these gaps that for so long our community has known about and particularly, our nonprofit leaders have been able to see and have tried to sort of fill in those gaps.”
At A Barber’s Cafe and Bar, owner Hakim remains hopeful.
“We’re still here. We’re not over the pandemic, but we are exiting the economic halt and businesses are reopening,” he said a few weeks ago, adding that he hopes to nearly double his weekly clients once the pandemic is over.