Barber struggling to survive Union Square pandemic plunge – NBC Bay Area

Like all business owners, Cheung Ng didn’t see it coming. How could he? How could we? Veteran hairstylist’s business, Elan Hair Salon, was buzzing with five hairstyling stations and eight stylists cutting and styling five floors above San Francisco’s famous Union Square neighborhood. The location, hovering over Grant Street, seemed to symbolize Ng’s rise to the world of styling.

Then came the pandemic. As San Francisco closed in March 2020, Ng’s business joined other personal services businesses closing in the face of COVID-19. Her room full of elegant armchairs for washing her hair and styling was empty, the nudity reflected in the ubiquitous mirrors where a few weeks earlier, clients watched their personal transformations. Now the bird’s eye view of the store looked out over empty streets – the only activity was boarding the storefronts.

“It was difficult, we can’t operate, the landlord still wants rent during this period,” Ng said recently, sitting in his still empty living room. “There’s no way, no way, that I can pay the rent here.

Joe Rosato Jr.

Cheung Ng started styling his hair when he was a teenager. His store, Elan Hair Salon, has been through the pandemic.

With his business plummeting, it looks like Ng needs to build on his story as a reboot man.

The first big upheaval in Ng’s life came when he was six and a half years old and his family moved from Canton, China to San Francisco. He arrived at his new home in the city’s Chinatown speaking not a word of English. He began to soak up the language of his new nation at his elementary school in the close-knit Chinatown district, while making some new world friends. But then the family uprooted again and moved to Daly City. He had to start over.

In middle school, as other kids gathered on the grill or on the baseball field, Ng found a new thrill cutting his friends’ hair in the family garage. It started with the fade and moved on to the cut. The garage saw a stable clientele.

“I have to say the first twenty or thirty haircuts were horrible,” Ng said with a laugh. “But I liked doing it.”

Ng’s parents had visions of their son heading to law or medical school, so it didn’t go well when he announced he wanted to try beauty school. He went there anyway.

“After beauty school they see how passionate I am about it,” he said. “And they are great, super united.”

Ng leaned against the living room window, gazing out into the deserted streets of Union Square, with only a few people in sight. Some life has returned to the streets since the vaccinations began, but not much.

Joe Rosato Jr.

Cheung Ng stares at the window of his Union Square store on the mostly empty streets.

Like other hairdressing professionals, Ng began making clandestine house calls while his studio was closed to deal with clients desperate for haircuts. But even now that he’s cleared to reopen for internal business, his salon remains as barren as the streets below with clients just pouring in and stylists unwilling to come back to rent chairs.

“They are independent contractors, they don’t want to hire me full time right now – everyone is doing house calls,” Ng said. “And the house calls are all on their own and they don’t have to come here and pay me rent. And I understand that.”

While it hurts that his company is in economic purgatory, it’s when asked about his reaction to the recent wave of attacks on the Asian community that he visibly recoils in pain. With elderly parents, he reflected a lot, a lot of anguish on the subject. He tells his parents not to make their weekly visits to Chinatown to see friends and frequent familiar stores.

“Most of the attacks target elderly Asians,” he said, asking a rhetorical question. “And to be honest, what did older Asians do to anyone?”

Ng’s head collapsed as his words flowed, and his eyes peeked out into the picture window filled with the life of the afternoon sun above the dead streets where no one doesn’t walk – especially anyone willing to take a five-flight lift for a haircut. Ng is a man who, for now, cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. He believes business will return, but not to the point before the pandemic. How can his business survive, he wonders, when few customers arrive but the rent bill never goes down?

So, on occasion, when a customer enters the elevator of the casemate to make the five-flight climb to Ng’s lounge, and leans back in the chair to wash their hair and massage the leather. hairy, and that Ng has laser-sized his hair. like focusing as they follow in the mirror as it twists, bends and finely cuts their hair into something fancy – they get the full passion of an artist doing what he was born to do – escaping into his job as a buffer of the void somewhere under the living room windows.

“When you’re done you can see your work,” he said, leaning back in his stylist chair, “it’s an art form.”

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