14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, February 11, 2020 — A few months ago it was farmers, then independent taxi drivers, and now it’s the barbers’ turn. The government’s attempts to impose price caps on the “scissors sector” has met with fierce resistance from self-employed workers.
An article in the official press criticizing the rise in prices at barbershops that began at the end of last year has unleashed a torrent of criticism, both from hair professionals and from customers who say they cannot afford their services.
“I am a barber. I live in Ciego de Alvila and have to pay 1,500 pesos for a packet of one-hundred razaor blades,” says Alejandro, a self-employed worker on the outskirts of the city. “My clients inisist I use a new blade each time, so that means I have to spend fifteen pesos on each customer.”
From time to time Alejandro pays 250 pesos for a bottle of cologne to refresh the skin and send his customers off smelling like lavender. He pays 40 pesos for a box of talcum powder. The hairspray he uses on those who want to look impeccable hours after they leave his shop costs him between 375 and 500 pesos.
“It doesn’t stop there,” he says. “A single jar of wax costs me 250 pesos. Every month I have spend around 4,000 pesos just to stay in business. That’s after paying for my business license, social security and the supplies I need. And that’s not in Havana.”
In addition to the costs for “the here and now” Alejandro’s initial investment was almost 94,000 pesos, raised with help from his domestic partner, mother and emigré brother. “The government does not take this into account but everyone knows that the businesses that are respected here are financed with money from overseas.
Invisible investments of capital from abroad are very common. It is rare to find a successful business that has not received an infusion of dollars from the owner’s relative, friend or third party who lives abroad. Though there are no official statistics to confirm it, many believe that, without this foreign oxygen, most Cuban entrepreneurs would not survive.
For the barber from Ciego de Avila having a clientele means serving customers who come to his salon.”It’s a small city. You don’t have a lot of options. If they force me to cap my prices, I will have to give up my license,” he says.”But this is an art. We’re not factory workers. Every person who sits in that chair wants something different, something personal.”
Given the city’s wide internet coverage and a booming market for in-home services, some Havana entrepreneurs are trying to avoid heavy fines by making clandestine visits to their clients’ homes or practicing their craft on the black market, places beyond the reach of government guidelines and decrees.
“I still have options so let’s see how things turn out. For now, I pay my taxes, go to my customers’ houses for 100 pesos apiece and that’s that,” said a barber on Monday morning while working on one customer’s beard. When he was done, the man paid him the price he had been quoted, without complaint
“Fighting with the barber is like fighting with the cook. He can make your head look like a pile of cockroaches or spit in your food,” acknowledges Lárazo Miguel, a young man who agreed to pay 75 pesos for a quick haircut after much haggling with a barber on Marquez Gonzalez Street in Central Habana.
One of the barbers at the salon where Lazaro Miguel was getting his hair cut voiced a common complaint: “They want us to charge 25 pesos for a haircut but there are people who sit down in that chair and expect miracles. It’s not fair to expect us to charge the same for a once-in-a-liftime haircut as for a basic cut.”
“I know what my services are worth. The son of two doctors, who together earn more than 12,000 pesos a month, comes in, sits down in my chair and asks for a special cut. He wants me to use electric shears on one side of his head and scissors on the other. But I have to charge him 20 or 50 pesos for that. It doesn’t make sense for me, for him or for his parents,” as a self-employed hair stylist.
“A shave with cream, lotion and a facial massage is 100 pesos. A beard trim is another 50. I cannot do it for less than that,” adds Reynaldo, a self-employed barber. “What more do they want?” he wonders. “This is more than a barber shop. It’s a parliament,” says the owner of a salon on Neptuno Street.
“Everyone who comes here spends stays for at least an hour. They don’t just want to look good; they want to feel good. Customers come in, they sit down, they have some water, charge their phones, and even use the bathroom and toilet paper. Who is paying for all that?” one of them asks.
Fighting with the barber is not like complaining to a chef. At a restaurant, they just take the plate away but a few misplaced snips to your hair can stay with you for days.
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