Lawrence barbers, other businesses requiring customer contact respond to COVID-19 pandemic

photo by: Elvyn Jones

Larry Franklin Jr. stands ready for customers Saturday, March 21, 2020, at Larry's Barber Shop, 924 Massachusetts St. Although at least two downtown barber shop have temporarily closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Franklin was open Saturday despite a sharp decline in business.

UPDATED STORY: The Lawrence-Douglas County health department on Sunday night announced a “stay at home” order that will go into effect early Tuesday morning to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here for new story

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Larry Franklin Jr., owner of Larry’s Barber Shop at 924 Massachusetts St., had plenty of time Saturday morning to weigh the risks and rewards of staying open and continuing to be in direct contact with customers.

Saturday morning, the rewards were scarce as most of his customers appeared to be heeding the recommendation of Douglas County Health Officer Dr. Thomas Marcellino to cancel or postpone all nonessential services or appointments to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“I figured I’d stay open as long as I doing a little business,” Franklin said as he looked around his shop devoid of customers. “I don’t know how much longer it will be worthwhile to come down here.”

A block north of Franklin’s shop, potential customers of Amyx Barber Shop, owned by Mike Amyx, and Amyx Barber Shop North, owned by Malcolm Miller, were greeted with notices stating they were temporarily closed because the pandemic. Amyx said he and the seven barbers who work at his shop made the decision to close last week.

“Obviously, we’re wiping everything down and disinfecting everything, but in this business we’re in close contact with our customers,” Amyx said. “I talked to the people who work at the shop, and we made the decision to close. We’re taking it week by week.”

A check of a few other Lawrence businesses whose owners or employees also have to be in close or direct contact with customers indicates they, too, have either closed temporarily or have greatly altered operational procedures. Of those that remained open, all have significantly increased cleaning and disinfecting routines.

Franklin understands the safety concerns that prompted other barbers to close. His father, Larry Franklin Sr., who normally works the shop’s second chair on busy Saturdays, has decided it’s now safer to stay home.

“He’s over 70 years old,” Franklin said. “That put him in the high-risk group if he gets infected.”

In addition to enhancing cleaning and disinfection routines, Franklin has limited his shop’s occupancy by taping off all but three of the chairs available for waiting customers. While giving a haircut, he tries to stay to the side or behind customers, and he no longer offers shaves or mustache or beard trims.

At Creative Style, 1033 1/2 Massachusetts St. hairstylist Debbie Flint said she was one of three independent contractors who work at the shop. One is already taking a break from the shop, and Flint said she is considering doing the same. Her mind kept focusing Saturday on the need to clean and disinfect whenever someone entered or left the shop, she said.

Based on Journal-World calls Friday to five dental clinics, dental care in Lawrence appears to be available only on an emergency basis.

Kayla Steffey, administrative assistant for Free State Dental, 4111 W. Sixth St. said as of Tuesday the clinic suspended normal business operations through April 6. Free State Dental now has one of the clinic’s three dentists on call to make decisions on emergency cases and to approve needed prescriptions for patients, she said.

The closure was in line with the recommendations of the American Dental Association and appears to have been widely adopted in the profession, Steffey said.

Calls to the Lawrence offices of Enhanced Dental Care, 3514 #G Clinton Parkway; Lawrence Dental Solutions, 545 Columbia Drive Suite 2001; Kaw Valley Dental Clinic, 4102 W. Sixth St. Suite B; and Douglas County Dental Clinic Inc., 2210 Yale Road were answered with receptionists or a recording informing callers those clinics were currently open for emergency cases only.

The pandemic has also disrupted the operations of at least some Lawrence optometry clinics.

Ashlyn Buwe, a technician for the office of Dr. Aaron Schwindt in the Walmart at 3300 Iowa St., said the office ended normal business operations Thursday. The office is no longer providing eye exams and has limited activity to providing customers with prescriptions for glasses and contacts, she said. The clinic plans to start offering eye exams again April 1, she said.

Samantha Jones, optician in the office of Drs. Dobbins and Letourneau, 831 Vermont St., said the clinic has steadily introduced measures in the past week to 10 days that have reduced the number of client visits from 50 to 75 people a day to 10 to 15. That was accomplished through such measures as cutting back hours, reducing the number of routine eye exams and providing curbside delivery of new eye glasses and contacts.

Jones said the clinic would continue to monitor the situation and adopt new measures as needed to keep staff and clients safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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