Lance Bagley was due for his monthly haircut just before businesses started shutting down due to the coronavirus. When Gov. Kemp announced early last week that barbershops in Georgia could open as soon as Friday, Bagley began checking to see when Woody’s Barbershop would be open. When his wife saw that the beloved Dahlonega barbershop would be reopening on Monday, his plans were set.
“I told her last night I have to get up early and get here as soon as possible,” Bagley said.
He wasn’t the only one.
Kirk Heriot arrived just before Bagley, at around 7:20 a.m., which made him fourth in line.
Similar to Bagley, Heriot made plans to be one of the first in Dahlonega to get his hair cut once Kemp reopened the state.
“My hair hadn’t been this long in forever, so it’d been a really long time, it was looking really weird,” he said. “I drove over here and was looking for a sign last week, hoping maybe they were going to try it on Friday, so I was ready, I knew I was coming here on Monday.”
As men from all around the area made plans to arrive early for the barbershop’s reopening, only two of the five barbers felt ready to come back.
“All of us are independent contractors, so it was really all up to us as a personal barber or stylist to decide if we wanted to come,” Mandi Borland, who made the Facebook post announcing the barbershop’s reopening, said. “I’m trusting the sanitation, still doing all the state-order regulations and all that.”
The other was Shelia Hovater, who showed up early and got to work right away, knowing it would be a busy day.
“It’s like FROG week except it’s today,” Hovater said.
Mark Evans, a comedian who lives in Jefferson, made the hour drive to Dahlonega arriving around 7:30 a.m.
“When I came around the corner, I knew they weren’t letting people wait indoors, thank God, or it would really be bad, and I saw this big pile of people and thought ‘okay, not going back home,’” he said.
About three hours later, he left a happy man, with shorter hair.
Dan Van Hout, who was next in line after Evans, considered taking even more desperate measures.
“When the governor announced that they were going to open up barbershops, I came up and looked and found out when they were going to open up,” he said. “I was so eager I was going to put a tent on the sidewalk.”
While the lines were long and the wait cold, as one of the new social distancing policies no one could wait inside, the men waited patiently, just happy to be there instead of in quarantine.
“It was good talks, we had some fun discussions, it was good meeting some folks, talking to some folks, a good morning so it was all good,” Bagley said.
Talks included everything from the chilly morning weather to popular Netflix series Ozarks and Tiger King, as well as the virus which indirectly brought them all together that morning.
As for catching the virus, none of the men seemed too concerned.
“They’re taking precautions, this is no different than going to the grocery store, I don’t think,” Evans said.
John Trujillo, a local man who came with his neighbor for a fresh cut, said he felt safe in Dahlonega because of its size.
“I come from a big city, and I would be more concerned about it in the city than out here,” he said.
While it made for a busy first day back to work, Borland was glad to see the lines.
“I’m really happy that the community is still coming and supporting us even though we’ve been closed for a month and a half,” she said. “And I know they need haircuts too, and they probably need some fixes from quarantine cuts.”
Trujillo was the first to admit he was there to fix a “quarantine cut.”
“My girlfriend actually had to cut it one time because it was getting too long and out of shape but it was a little hacked up, so they straightened it out for me,” he said. “But I was very thankful for her to do that because it was getting way out of control.”
While the customers were thankful for the bit of normalcy a trip to Woody’s restored in their lives, Borland hopes that they can keep it going. But for now, she’s taking it one day at a time.
“We’re just going to see how this plays out, opening up everything this early, as long as everybody plays by the rules,” she said. “We really appreciate everybody coming out and trusting us and understanding that we’re going to do the best we can to keep everybody safe.”
While some opt to re-open, other businesses are choosing to stay the course with their altered business plans.
Just across the public square Shenanigans Irish Pub isn’t ready to open its dining room doors just yet.
Alternatively, the popular restaurant is choosing to continue serving curbside pickup orders to customers on Fridays with a scaled-down menu.
Owner Deb Rowe said she doesn’t think it’s time to re-open dining areas if they don’t allow sufficient space for people to stay six feet apart from one another.
In addition, Rowe is wary of sending the message to out-of-town folks that it's business as usual.
“We don’t open on weekends to avoid the impression to visitors that we are open normally,” she said, citing the City parking lot adjacent to the restaurant which is typically filled with cars on Saturdays and Sundays.
For several weeks during the quarantine, the pub also offered customers the opportunity to place “retail” orders for grocery-type supplies to be picked up curbside.
Rowe said that it was a good service to offer while other stores were low on supplies.
But after about a month of this weekday business, the service has been phased out now that local residents are able to get supplies easier at their usual retail stores.
"It was good for a while,” Rowe said, “but now it's not needed as much.”
The Friday curbside service (11 a.m. to 7 p.m.) will continue to be accompanied by an outdoor concert at Shenanigans beginning at 7 p.m.
Folks are invited to remain in the parking lot and enjoy the music featuring Hughes Taylor this week.
Food will be served “hemlock style” Rowe said, with a designated area to order and another for pickup.
Across the square at Spirits Tavern, orders will continue to be served curbside for at least a couple more weeks.
Owner Sabrina Walker said opening the dining room would be “premature” at this point.
“[COVID-19] cases are still rising and it doesn't make sense to let people around each other,” she said.
Despite these challenges, Walker said the restaurant has not had to layoff any employees.
Customers are enjoying the curbside service, she said, which is offered 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day of the week, (plus delivery, if her husband is available, Walker added).
Except for a few modifications that have been made based on supply, they have been able to continue their regular menu.
“For the most part we are able to get our staples,” Walker said, “and we won't compromise on quality.”
Walker hopes that would-be visitors to Dahlonega remain mindful of social distancing precautions, even as restrictions are slowly lifted.
“We don't know if the loosening of restrictions will make people want to stay close to home, or if they will try to travel up here,” she said.