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Customers Are Eager To Return To Shops, But Reopening Is A Challenge03:34
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Leuris Luna gives a haircut to a customer at J&C Barber Shop in Roxbury, the first day of reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Leuris Luna gives a haircut to a customer at J&C Barber Shop in Roxbury, the first day of reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Tayah Peterson-El, a 32-year-old woman from Dorchester, got in line outside a local cannabis store at 10:30 a.m. on Monday. The store, Pure Oasis, didn’t open for another 30 minutes, but the line was already wrapping around the block.

Pure Oasis — along with other retail stores, barber shops, hair salons and a few other services — are back in business for the first time in two months, thanks to phase one of the state’s reopening plan. Customers are wary, but glad some of their favorite stores are returning. Peterson-El has been waiting to buy a new supply of cannabis for weeks now.

“I have arthritis, so it helps me with my joints and my knees and things like that. Also [I use it] recreationally. It also helps with anxiety,” she said. Like everyone else in line, a face mask muffled her voice.

Just before the state shut down non-essential businesses to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Peterson-El bought a large stash of weed. But the shutdown dragged on so long that she ran out a few weeks in.

Since then, she said her arthritis has flared up from time to time – except without the calming fog of marijuana to relieve her symptoms. So, she’s been anxiously waiting for cannabis shops to open back up.

A worker from Pure Oasis brings out an order to a customer on the first day of reopening. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A worker from Pure Oasis brings out an order to a customer on the first day of reopening. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

“Actually, it was the first thing on my mind this morning,” she said, chuckling.

Throughout the pandemic, Peterson-El said she has been concerned about getting the coronavirus, but she felt comfortable waiting in line outside Pure Oasis. Everyone in the queue stood 6 feet from one another and had masks on.

“I’m not worried at all,” she said. “I probably won’t come back for a while, but only because the wait is super long.”

After an hour and a half in line, a store attendant came out of Pure Oasis and handed Peterson-El a brown paper bag. She peeked inside. After two long months, she’s finally able to restock.

It’s not the only wait that’s over for her, though. Peterson-El is also a hair stylist, and she hasn’t been able to work over the last couple of months either. Before the coronavirus, she had a storefront, but she couldn’t keep paying the rent without any clients.

Now, she’s moving her business into her home, and she has nine appointments lined up this week. Facing the week makes her a little apprehensive, but she said she’s looking forward to getting back on her feet.

“You always get that anxiousness surrounding the coronavirus, but I’m not afraid,” she said. “It is a relief to start working. I’ve been waiting for a long time. So, it’s like, finally.”

But, she said, there’s a lot more to do when reopening during a pandemic than dust off the counters. There are a lot of restrictions to opening back up, Peterson-El said. For one, customers need to be 6 feet apart, and she can’t do walk-ins anymore. Nobody will sit around, chat or catch up. The atmosphere, she said, is going to change a lot.

“It’s like the experience at the barber shop or the hair salon is no longer going to be that experience,” she said. “I have disposable slippers, disposable capes. You just come in, take your jacket off, take your shoes off, put on the disposables and toss them out when you’re done.”

Tayah Peterson-El picks up a bag of cannabis from a newly reopened cannabis store. The store is able to open for the first time since the coronavirus shutdown for curbside pick up. (WBUR/Angus Chen)
Tayah Peterson-El picks up a bag of cannabis from a newly reopened cannabis store. The store is able to open for the first time since the coronavirus shutdown for curbside pick up. (WBUR/Angus Chen)

Down the street, J&C Barber Shop opened on Monday for business. Latin music spilled out of its open door onto Blue Hill Avenue, and two men were wearing face masks inside as they got haircuts. Leuris Luna is one of the barbers there. On opening day, he was wearing gloves, a mask and a face shield.

He said the job is a lot harder now than it used to be. Working is less comfortable because of all the restrictions in place to slow any potential spread of the virus.

“We’re doing the best we can, but everything is a little complicated,” he said. “We’re washing hands with soap or alcohol, cleaning the whole area all the time, wearing a mask all the time. We’re taking every kind of measure now.”

One of his customers, Tom Tran, sat in an empty barber chair waiting for a barber to cut his hair. He said the shop feels a lot different now.

“I can see they got the red tape on the floor,” he said. “This is not how it used to be. There used to be chairs all around where you can sit. They took all that away. So, you know. Everybody’s all distanced now.”

Seeing the safeguards made him feel confident about staying in the store and getting his hair cut.

“People’s taken their precautions,” he said. “They’re protecting you and themselves.”

It’s about time he got a haircut, too, he said.

“It’s overdue. It’s been seven weeks,” he said, repeating himself. “You can see, man. I don’t keep my hair this long.”

Tran looked into the mirror and ran a hand over his black hair. He normally gets a haircut once a week. Now, he’s looking forward to that part of his life returning to normal.

This segment aired on May 26, 2020.

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Angus Chen Twitter Reporter, CommonHealth
Angus Chen is a reporter for WBUR's CommonHealth.

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