Heavy loans, fewer customers and rising Covid cases in the third wave leave self-employed barbers and spa owners uncertain about their future
The weekend curfew announced by the Delhi government on 5 January has adversely affected several businesses, and the salons and wellness centres are not indifferent to this milieu. Ankit Kumar (25), is one such barber from Delhi whose business has suffered a lot because of Covid-19. On an average, in the last three weeks, he has only had two customers per day. “Last year, after the second wave, we literally had to fight a war to restart our business. Our business was getting back on track as we did good business between September to December. But now, it’s again gone flat as the government has imposed a weekend curfew. We earn more on weekends than we do on weekdays”, Ankit says. His business was down 50% when the first lockdown in 2020 was lifted. It never picked up pace after the lockdown as whenever it looked like things were settling, a new Covid wave would hit hard and subsequent restrictions ensured the earnings stayed minimal.
When asked about other possible reasons for customers not turning up even when the severity of cases is low, he replied, “The major reason is Covid-19 itself. My regular customers have told me that they prefer Urban Company as it involves minimal risks, because the barber can do the same work at the client’s home. The other reason is that because of Covid-19, people have started believing more in superstitions. So, they do not come in on Thursdays anymore. And on Tuesdays, the whole market is shut. So, we effectively work just four days of the week.”
The weekend curfew means Ankit has no work on the weekends and almost zero work on Thursdays. The low business has compelled him to take loans from various moneylenders in the past to pay the monthly rent of Rs 30,000 for his shop and pay salary to his two employees.. Currently, Ankit has a loan of over Rs 3,80,000, and he is not sure how he will repay it if the pandemic persists.
Monu (22) (name changed) joined as a barber in a local shop last year in August. He is paid a monthly salary of Rs 15,000 as monthly income besides a travel allowance. When asked about how he thinks his employer has managed to pay the salary all this while even though the business has not been doing well, he answers, “I guess they are giving us money out of their own pockets. I’m lucky to still be employed as many people I know have been let go by their employers in the last six months because of low income.”
A spa owner who did not want to be named told The Patriot that as far as his business is concerned, it picked up pace after September last year as several weddings were scheduled for the subsequent months. “We have to pay a monthly rent of Rs 1,40,000 for the shop and we also pay around Rs 1.5 lakh cumulatively as salary to our eight employees. So, we were able to manage both of these things in the last 3-4 months without taking any loans.” Unlike the last 3-4 months, the months preceding them were not so good as he too took a loan of over Rs 5 lakh to pay his shop rent. Now, he is afraid that if the weekend curfew continues and the number of covid cases do not come down, people won’t come fearing the virus, and he won’t be able to pay the monthly EMIs for the loan he applied for.
The Delhi High Court on 17 January had dismissed petitions challenging the closure of spas and wellness centres in the national capital on account of Covid-19. “It is not for this court to conclude that a situation has arisen where a direction can be given for the opening of spas and wellness centres. In the facts of this case, I don’t see any reason to interfere with the impugned order. Petitions are dismissed,” said Justice V Kameswar Rao.