Abel’s on Queen glad to be back in business after a three-month hiatus

By Ian Hunter

Barbers and salons weren’t declared an essential service in Ontario, but try telling that to the shaggy who went three months without a haircut.

On June 12th, the provincial government allowed barbershops and salons to reopen their doors, and it wasn’t long before clients flocked to see their beloved hairstylist or barber again.

Abel's on Queen is one local barbershop that welcomed their customers back with open arms. The shop recently celebrated their one-year anniversary at their new location in downtown Kitchener, operating previously as Spearhead Barber & Supply in Waterloo. The new name is a nod to Abel Walper, the original founder of The Walper Hotel.

Mitch Bright is the owner-operator at Abel’s and he was overwhelmed with an influx of customer interest once stage two was announced of reopening the province.

“It just made us feel really good and made us feel really wanted,” Bright said. “It made us feel almost essential, even though we were deemed as non-essential. It was really nice to see the community pick up right where we left off and come back into the shop full-swing. It definitely made coming back to work a lot easier for us.”

Bright and his staff were prepared to return to work in mid-April, but the announcement of stage two came later than expected because of a sudden surge in COVID-19 cases in Ontario. On June 8th, barbershops were only given four days notice to reopen their doors, and Bright and his team frantically worked to get the shop ready.

Within mere minutes, appointments booked up for two weeks solid and Abel’s was inundated with over 200 messages requesting a haircut. “It was crazy to see that. It was really nice to know that during all this, no one forgot about us,” Bright said.

Abel’s has new protocols in place for patrons; customers and barbers must wear facemasks inside the shop. They also stagger appointments throughout the day, barbers take 15 minutes to clean in between appointments, and the shop removed one barber’s chair, which took them down to 75 percent capacity.

With many businesses left at a standstill in March and April, some seeds of doubt crept into Bright’s mind as to when or if he could reopen the doors at Abel’s, but he was self-assured they’d be back to work eventually.

“There were definitely thoughts of: ‘Is this going to last a long time? Is my business going to survive?’ We have a really great support system from both The Walper Hotel and Perimeter Development, as well as our friends, family and clients. I was pretty confident knowing I wouldn’t lose my business because of this,” Bright said.

When Abel’s took the leap from their student-centric location in Waterloo to downtown Kitchener, they saw a slight change in their clientele. Although they’re working in a smaller space than the previous shop, Bright and his staff enjoy being central to Kitchener’s core.

“We’re definitely seeing fewer students and more business professionals,” Bright said. “Downtown is so diverse; we get a good even mix of all different types of clientele, as well as a lot of existing clientele from the old shop. We’re just as busy as we were in the last shop, if not, we’re even busier because we’re in a spot where we can have somebody walk up and get a haircut.”

In the grand scheme of things, a haircut might seem like a simple service, but after a three-month hiatus from the barbershop, customers not only miss getting a fresh trim, they miss the comradery. Not only that, but a haircut has helped bring some normalcy back into people’s lives.

“I think it’s really important, getting a haircut,” Bright said. “Having that confidence of having a fresh cut, feeling good, it really does something for your mental health, I find.”

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