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Customers fill the chairs and waiting area at Sain's Barber and Style in downtown Morganton on Wednesday, the last day most service industry businesses in North Carolina could operate before being closed by an executive order related to the coronavirus pandemic from Gov. Roy Cooper.

North Carolinians wanting haircuts, manicures, workouts and more had until 5 p.m. Wednesday to get it done.

After that, Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order closing such businesses went into effect as the state tries to battle and slow the progression of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic that’s sweeping the globe.

Sain’s Barber and Style in downtown Morganton stayed open late Monday and Tuesday — past 11 p.m., according to owner/barber Tommy Sain — and the shop still was bustling midday Wednesday.

“We wanted to take care of as many of our customers as we could,” Sain said. “We knew we were going to be shut down for who knows how long. That’s our biggest question. We just wanted to give them the opportunity to get in and get a haircut, so we just left the doors open.”

Those who have visited service industry businesses of late have had to balance the necessity of needing a haircut or other service versus precaution of following recommendations like social distancing.

“I was planning on coming in,” said Mark Hardin, of Morganton, while waiting on an empty barber chair Wednesday. “I work some long hours, and I guess the decision (to close the businesses) maybe pushed me up a few more days. I was going to wait. ... I think it’s important that we follow science and what doctors say. Follow the experts more than opinion.

“I think with a lot of things, it’s better to be overly cautious as opposed to not being cautious enough. That way, even if you’re overly cautious, whenever this is over — whenever that is — you can go back and analyze it and it’ll help you plan for the next thing. That’s kind of the stance I take.”

Folks not only have to worry about themselves, but about their families and friends, too.

“I was going to stay at home since I have a daughter and people are getting sick, especially older people,” said Morganton’s Jose Gomez, who shared the waiting area with Hardin. “The flu is going around, and people are getting the flu confused with COVID-19. That’s not good, especially with kids. ... Every time you go home, clean your hands, clean the door and be careful.

“Staying home is about all we can do. When this is over, we’ll go back to work and work hard. But I wanted to get my hair cut before, because we don’t even know when it’s going to be back open.”

Sain said he was hoping there could be some kind of compromise situation before the executive order came down.

“My hope was, and I talked to (N.C. Sen.) Warren Daniel and (N.C. Rep.) Hugh Blackwell, that they would just regulate us,” Sain said. “Say, ‘OK guys, you can’t have more than one in the shop at a time.’ People could sign in at the door, wait outside and then we’d call them in. That way, you could regulate it.

“I honestly feel like it would have been safer for the general public to get a haircut in a regulated place of business then to go home, sit in a lawn chair somewhere and somebody take animal clippers and cut their hair. That’s not very sanitary.”

What can barbers do during their government-imposed downtime? It gets a little tricky.

“My understanding is that a barber cannot cut hair outside of a regulated shop and charge,” Sain said. “There’s a possibility he could do it for a donation or tip. Somebody said there’s no nation like a donation. I think we live in America, and if I want to go cut my neighbor’s hair at his house — I’ve done it lots of times.

“You go to people who are shut-ins and you take care of your customers. That’s just the American thing to do. But we want to stay legal. At the same time, you want to take care of your customers and make a living, too.”

Justin Epley can be reached at jepley@morganton.com or 828-432-8943.

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