By Kathy McGrath

When Justin Cheddie opened a new barbershop in Centennial last October, he expected there might be a few bumps along the way. However, he did not anticipate having to shut down his business for more than three months in his first year of operation.

When COVID-19 forced the closure of all Ontario’s barbershops and salons in March, Cheddie hoped it would only be for a few weeks. Of course, the weeks soon turned into months.

“It was tough for me, business-wise, because five months after opening I was supposed to be promoting the shop, growing the business, being social,” he said. “It was a real financial strain to just stop.”

In order to ride out the crisis, the 30-year-old Scarborough native drastically tightened his purse strings. “I still had to pay my rent no matter what, so I didn’t make any personal purchases during that time and I helped my dad out at his business.”

Cheddie’s budgeting and perseverance paid off in the end when he was able to reopen his doors on July 1.  

“I didn’t open up the first day we were allowed back,” he said. “I waited a couple of days to feel things out and make sure I was ready.”

To prepare for reopening, the young barber took online courses and put guidelines in place to ensure his business, called The Shop, was safe for customers and staff. Among safety measures, customers must make appointments to ensure sufficient cleaning time between haircuts. The scheduled appointments also ensure a maximum of two customers at a time. 

The Shop, located in the plaza at Port Union Rd. and Lawrence Ave., also has two separate washrooms – one for clients and one for Cheddie and his fellow barbers, Zaheer and Daryl.

Additionally, because he reopened in the summer, Cheddie has been able to keep his front door ajar to promote fresh airflow through the unit. Of course, masks are also worn as required.

“Public health came in and checked on us and said we’re doing great – even doing a little extra,” he said.

While his customers were a little nervous initially, Cheddie says business has picked up steadily; in fact, he has gained more local customers since reopening and is busier than ever.

“Many people in the neighbourhood didn’t know we were here,” said Cheddie, “but with so many people out walking recently, they discovered us.” 

He said that since COVID hit, Centennial residents are patronizing local businesses because they trust them and feel safe in their own neighbourhood.

Cheddie, who began cutting hair in his parents’ garage at the age of 12, sees customers of all ages in his shop – from skateboarders to elderly gentlemen.

The cultural mix in Centennial also requires a wide variety of haircuts. “I might do a comb-over one minute, and then I’m doing a high-top fade right after,” he laughed.  He said that hair trends often depend on the dominant sport in the area, adding,  “I do a lot of hockey hair here.”  

While the past six months have been stressful and depressing for many, Cheddie is determined to generate positive vibes in his shop.