INNISFAIL – The town’s hair salon community is united in opposition to the way a lone rebellious barbershop campaigned against provincial COVID restrictions, which they insist divided the community, caused businesses to lose clients and revenue, and even put Innisfail at greater pandemic risk.
Two business owners, representing 10 local hair salons, delivered a passionate presentation to town council on Jan. 18 that condemned the highly publicized and emotionally charged COVID restriction defiance by Bladez 2 Fadez Barbershop, a relatively new business in town that illegally opened its business for three days this month.
Ironically, Jan. 18 was the first day in more than five weeks hair salons in Alberta could legally open. The prior week the province announced the easing of COVID restrictions on all personal service businesses that were first put in place on Dec. 13.
While the illegal re-opening by the barbershop garnered provincial and national headlines, it also resulted in provincial public health charges for violating COVID restrictions.
“I feel their actions, along with former councillor Glen Carritt’s public vow of support, was not only hurtful but harmful to businesses in our town, also in the personal services industry in which I created my own business,” said Kristen Scott, owner of Kristen’s Hair Affair, one of the presenters to council. She went on to tell council the illegal stand by Bladez 2 Fadez Barbershop was done without contacting any member of the local hair salon community, and placed Innisfail at risk against a potentially deadly pandemic.
“Had we been contacted, we may have been able to come together and work to petition our government about opening our businesses,” Scott told council. "They didn't lean on their community or industry, they just defiantly opened. They didn't have the industry nor community in mind by opening."
“If they did, they would have reached out prior to opening. They opened for themselves.”
Barbershop defends defiance
Natalie Klein, the rebel barbershop’s co-owner, said efforts were made through posts on her social media accounts to contact other local hair salons to support the controversial stand against COVID restrictions on small businesses.
“They had the choice to reach out and join,” said Klein, who conceded she did not directly reach out to other salons. “That’s why I publicly posted because I was hoping other people would join because the same thing in Lethbridge led other salons to gather by each one posting. That’s how we gather. Facebook is a platform for people to reach out to others.”
Klein also disputed the accusation that her stand against provincial COVID restrictions divided the community.
“I think if anything it unified Alberta,” said Klein, adding she still has no regrets for the consequences of her illegal stand. “I don’t think so, not at this point. I am sorry if the town feels divided in this but the end result is that the personal service industry is open and I believe we should all get back to work and do what we do best.
“I am very grateful for the industry being re-opened. I wish everyone the best.”
Hair salon struggles
Elaine Byman, owner of Innisfail's First Impressions Hair, Esthetics and Laser Studio, is back to work following the province’s easing of COVID restrictions. As much as the lockdown has caused her hardship, she decided to bravely follow provincial restrictions as Bladez 2 Fadez Barbershop re-opened illegally.
“To have them blatantly disregard the law, the health concerns of our community, and not contacting another salon in town to get an idea what their thoughts were, really holds a bad spot in my heart that the only concern they have is for their own pocketbook and not for the health and well-being of our community,” said Byman, adding she too believes the barbershop controversy had needlessly divided the community, and caused her business to lose clients. “Absolutely, you have a lot of people who will support them, and that is their prerogative but because how it was done there was no consultation with any other salons or at least give us a head’s up of what they were going to do. We are all financially struggling.
“The remainder of the salons in town did not open their businesses during the health pandemic,” added Byman. “Who in their right mind does that? And expecting all to feel sorry for them, to give them money to help fight their bills, legal fees and all of that? Well, you put yourselves in that position.”
Seeking town support
Kristen Scott was joined at town council by Donna Nazar-Whitehead, owner of Adonia Beauty and Wellness, who was equally passionate in her condemnation of the illegal stand taken by Bladez 2 Fadez Barbershop.
She asked council why the town did not revoke the rebel barbershop’s licence while allowing them to publicly rebrand themselves as a pet grooming service.
“I am just here for answers. Why did we let it go on?" she asked.
Scott wanted to know if local hair salons had council’s support in condemning the rebel barbershop’s “reckless behaviour."
“Is there going to be a reprimand somehow?" asked Scott.
Mayor Jim Romane said council did not endorse the illegal action taken by Bladez 2 Fadez Barbershop, and left enforcement action up to Alberta Health Services (AHS) and the RCMP.
“It’s awkward for council to act as a police force on these government regulations, said Romane, later acknowledging Scott’s observation the rebel barbershop stand had created a deep “split” in the community.
“You are not alone as a lot of people have said to me, and I know myself, that’s BS what is going on over there.”
Coun. Gavin Bates said he was impressed by the presentation and was looking forward to receiving a report of the administration's review of the Business License Bylaw, which could provide the town a way forward to address similar issues in the future, and not depend solely on other levels of government for enforcement.
“I was personally embarrassed for Innisfail last week. Let’s hope we move on with it,” said Bates.
Todd Becker, the town’s chief administrative officer, said when AHS, accompanied by the RCMP, moved to apply its enforcement to the Bladez 2 Fadez Barbershop’s illegal re-opening, the town looked hard at its Business License Bylaw.
“We also received quite a bit of feedback from the community on the application of enforcement of the bylaw,” he said, adding the review was still ongoing. He told the delegation the only indication of pet grooming was on social media and the town did not pursue the issue.
Becker said council would soon be told about some of the “gaps” being uncovered in the bylaw, and he wanted to make sure there was “meat” in it before determining how it can be enforced.
“I didn’t want to leave it open for interpretation,” he said, adding council will be given full information and be asked to give direction on what level of enforcement it wants to apply using the Bladez example as a benchmark. “If I am applying enforcement associated with this bylaw I want to make sure it is enforceable."
“Council sets the bylaw and it’s up to administration to apply the bylaw,” added Becker. “If it was already to go it would have been my responsibility or staff to apply that enforcement.”
Becker said last week council will be presented with a full Business License Bylaw report in February.
The owners of Bladez 2 Fadez Barbershop will be answering to provincial COVID restriction laws on March 8.
In the meantime, all local hair salons are doing their best to make up for the financial hit caused by being shutdown for more than five weeks. Like most of the community, they seek peace from the COVID wound that ruptured and divided the town.
“Innisfail as a whole comes together to solve problems. When our neighbours are struggling, we come together to ease each other’s burdens,” said Scott during her presentation. “We are here to show you we stand for resilience, strength, health and unity of our industry, and most importantly, our community.”
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