Ralph Nisonov’s barber shop is empty.
“Nobody wants to get a haircut. They don’t go anyplace,” said Nisonov, a barber at Sudden Impulse Haircare in Middle Village, Queens.
The problem is the pandemic, which forced Nisonov to close Sudden Impulse Haircare for three months and continues to affect business.
To make matters worse, in October an inspector with the city's Department of Consumer and Worker Protection issued a $1,000 fine. The violation?
No social distancing markers on the floor.
“I don’t need any sign because you see that the salon is empty. It’s like a ghost town. It’s not a supermarket. It’s not Costco,” said Nisonov.
Nisonov says he posted markers the next day and then fought the summons. But he lost and had to pay up. He’ll need to cut the hair of 50 people just to make up that difference.
“Especially on the present time, we’re struggling,” said Nisonov.
Inspectors also made a visit to Best Tress Salon across the street. Hairstylist Laurie Boston says they were also hit with a $1,000 fine for using a notebook instead of an official city form to log each customer’s body temperature and contact information for contact tracers.
“That’s a lot of money to pay out for something we were trying. I mean we did everything we were supposed to do,” said Boston.
The office of City Councilman Robert Holden is down the block. He’s co-sponsoring legislation to waive fines for technical or minor infractions by small businesses during the pandemic. The bill would also lower existing penalties and establish a grace period for first-time violations.
“It’s like, really, are you trying to put them out of business? And many times they are putting them out of business. They’re hanging by a thread,” said Holden.
At a hearing earlier this week the commissioner of the Deparment of Consumer and Worker Protection criticized Holden's legislation, saying it could weaken consumer protection laws.
A mayoral spokesman says COVID-19 inspections are handled by several municipal agencies and that City Hall is reviewing Holden's bill and companion legislation.