‘I will take it to my grave’

For community’s only barber, lost income is bad enough. Being deemed ‘non-essential’ is worse.

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Doug Ray has cut hair in Red Bay for 55 years, and has customers who have been with him – depended on him – through the decades. Not being allowed to open his shop and serve people has been a crushing blow to Red Bay’s only barber. News photo/Jason Collum

Doug Ray’s Barber Shop has been a mainstay in Red Bay for 55 years. Ray has customers who have been with him since he started cutting hair here. It would even be fair to say they depend on him.

Alabama’s Safer at Home orders shut down hair salons, gyms and entertainment businesses in March, citing a need to restrict personal contact due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Only businesses deemed “essential” were allowed to stay open.

That is the part Ray has found most difficult to accept these past few weeks. While the shutdown has cost him many thousands of dollars in lost income, the scar Ray said will stay with him is being considered non-essential, as if he and his life’s work didn’t matter.

“When they tell me that I’m not essential, that makes me want to dig a hole and crawl it,” Ray said. “That’s what it does to you. That’s a fact. This has done a number on me. You may understand this, and you may not understand this, but I believe with all that lies within me that I will take this hurt, this ‘non-essential tag’ – I will take it to my grave. I believe it.”

Ray said among the many frustrations he has had during this time are that he’s seen businesses he does not understand how they were still considered essential remain open while his was closed. He shared a conversation just last week with a customer who said Red Bay was about to reopen, and he argued that it wasn’t.

“You can’t open something that was never closed,” Ray said. He said there was a day recently where he found himself in need of something and went to a local business to find it. “The place was wide open; it was just another day. No defense toward the virus whatsoever. Okay? Yeah, they were essential, and I’m closed, not essential and that isn’t fair. That hurts. It makes you feel as if you’re not wanted anymore.”

Ray said he had conversations with Red Bay Mayor Charlene Fancher about being open and he understands the edict did not come from the city but rather from Montgomery. No matter how badly he wanted to open his shop to cut hair and cover the fixed monthly expenses he has still been incurring, he couldn’t. If he had, he could have faced arrest and a fine. A rumor out in the community last week that he had been arrested and fined for opening is not true. However, if he had opened against state orders, he would likely have had plenty of customers.

That, Ray said, goes to show how vital his service is, and the services offered by those in the hair grooming profession. He said over the course of the past nine weeks he has received phone calls from as far as Pontotoc, Miss. and Nashville. That kind of persistence and that kind of loyalty suggest Ray’s customers will return when he reopens this week, but if the experience of the past nine weeks has done anything, it has instilled fear.

“It’s fear that your business is not going to come back,” Ray said. Despite the number of phone calls he has received – he had taken 10 calls the day of this interview – reassurance is hard to come by. Only time will tell. “It still doesn’t take away that fear.”

A new normal will await Ray’s customers when they return and while the state’s Safer at Home orders are in place. Ray does not plan on taking appointments, preferring to see customers on a first-come, first-served basis, but only one customer at a time will be allowed in his shop, per state requirements. Other customers will have to wait in their cars outside until their time in the chair arrives.

Doug Ray’s Barber Shop, located at 1001 4th Street NW, Red Bay, is open Wednesday-Friday, 6:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Phone number is 256-668-2072.