'I've run out of cash but I won't cut hair illegally'

By Nick Sheridan
Consumer Affairs Correspondent

  • Published
Karl Linich
Image caption,
Karl Linich closed his barber shop 10 weeks ago and cannot see a way to reopen within the social distancing guidelines

Karl Linich has been cutting hair for 40 years at his salon in in Glasgow.

Regular customers are still leaning out of car windows to shout in the door to him.

He tells them apologetically that he's still forbidden to work, and goes back inside, pulling the door shut behind him.

"People are phoning all the time - 'when are you opening, when are you opening?', I just say that I don't know. We're dying to get open. It's very difficult."

Karl's great-grandfather Albert set up the business in 1881. An enormous picture of his father at work hangs on the wall.

"This is the worst it's ever been," he said. "The shutdown was a shock actually. One day you're open, the next you're closed. There's nothing you can do and it's going on and on. We're on week 10 now and we're really struggling."

The salon is in the midst of a redecoration. Light fixtures, lightly coated with dust, hang exposed and mounds of plastic face coverings and hand-wipes pile high on a chair.

'Uncertain fate'

Karl's plans to refit the shop have been severely hampered by social distancing rules. Construction workers have to stagger when they visit his shop and progress is slow.

He is optimistic about the future of his business, but admits that his shop faces an uncertain fate if current restrictions remain in place for much longer.

Image caption,
People shout out to Karl when they pass by and beg him to cut their hair but he has to turn his back on them

"We've run out of money. And we've got to think about opening again so we've got PPE to be buying - we're going to incur a lot of expenses that other businesses won't," he said.

"The bills are still coming in, you've got electricity, accountancy bills, you've got all those sorts of bills coming in. They don't stop so they need to get paid."

He's frustrated at the limbo he believes his industry has been left in. According to Karl, there is no way to cut hair with the current rules in place.

"It can't be done, it's impossible," he said. "You've got to touch the customer, even when you're wearing gloves the feel is different. We're going to be the very last in the queue. So everyone else is going back to work, we're not - we're still stuck."

'Dangerous territory'

Some barbers are back to work - operating from backrooms on their premises or visiting customers in their homes. Karl says he has never considered it.

"It's dangerous - if you were to go and do that, you don't know what you're putting yourself into, it's dangerous territory. It's the same thing as opening the door and letting people in."

"Peter" in Glasgow has decided to take the risk. He does up to eight jobs a day in the gardens of customers' homes. During our time with him, his phone buzzes: another potential customer asking for an appointment.

"We're not just worried about the money, we're worried about them as well," he said. "They're all stressing out, they're all texting us, 'look at the state of me, look what's happened to me look at my hair.' We feel for them. So we're under a lot of pressure."

Before lockdown, "Peter" had up to 30 customers a day on a weekend. With three employees working for him, he says he feels a responsibility to keep his business afloat.

"Imagine, 10 o'clock at night you get a call from your employee saying 'I need money, when will I get money?,' he said. "They are so pressured. We feel so worried, and suddenly you get a text from a customer and their hair is a mess. And we don't want to ignore them."

"Peter" is aware that many people would frown on his business model.

"When we jump into the garden somewhere, you can see that some people, neighbours or friends, or family members - they're not happy. But our customers need a service, they need a haircut. So the population is divided."

'A lot of protection'

He insists he follows NHS guidance when it comes to social distancing, and brings hand gel and masks to jobs. But the risk of infection is still there.

"I am nervous, yes," he said. "We're at risk because when we go there, we don't know if someone in the family has got any symptoms, or is feeling unwell. But we have a lot of protection, like gloves and hand gel."

Meanwhile, in his empty shop in Govanhill, Karl Linich is watching the traffic out his window.

"We'll survive," he said. "We'll survive, hopefully it won't be too long."