During this extremely difficult time, we are learning that American heroes can be found throughout our community. Alton Casaus, owner of the Taylor’d Ranch Barber Shop is one. The coronavirus pandemic forced him to close his barber shop and release his employees. He lost his income, and assumed teaching duties for his two children, ages 10 and 4, when their school closed and classes moved online. His wife also brought her job home because of the pandemic.
Alton is a master barber who has been in the business for twenty-four years. Five years ago, he opened his own shop, the Taylor’d Ranch Barber Shop, with four employees. The family are very much part of the Westside community. His children attend a school only a short walk from his barber shop, so he can walk over and meet them. He and his family live on the Westside and many of his clients are from the Westside.
When he first heard the warnings about coronavirus earlier this year, he took steps to protect himself, his employees and his customers. He regularly cleaned and disinfected the surfaces in his shop and all the barbers began to wear masks. He even set up a sign-in sheet, asking customers to sign in, then wait in their cars until their turn when he would call them in.
Then came the closure order and life changed. He worried. Worried about the future of his business and about the impact of the virus on his income, his life and the life of his family. His children’s school closed and they had to take their classes online, which is not like being in a classroom with a teacher and surrounded by friends. With online learning, Alton had to coach his children and oversee their assignments. While his kids love being home and being in their neighborhood, they miss their friends and their grandparents. His wife, who works for the New Mexico Department of Health, is working from home and part of the Department’s contact tracing effort. This crucial work involves tracing the contacts of those who have been sickened by the coronavirus so those people can be tested and if necessary, treated.
He has received help in the form of stimulus money and unemployment compensation from New Mexico and the Federal Government. He has never received money from the city of Albuquerque though he applied for it. His employees are all receiving unemployment compensation. His landlord has told him there will be no late fees added to his rent payments. It helps but it is not the same as running your own business.
Alton knows the barber shop will re-open but he’s not sure when and that is one of his greatest frustrations. He said to me that what he wants from our leadership is honesty and clarity about the future. “Be as honest as possible with me” but he added, don’t be vague, especially about the future of business in New Mexico.
When he opens, he will follow the same rules he set up before he closed; rigorous and constant cleaning, the use of masks and control of the number of customers in his shop. However, he will have only two employees. One of his former barbers quit and the other is simply too old to risk exposure to the coronavirus. Alton realizes he also risks exposure to coronavirus when he reopens the store and worries for his own safety and that of his family. He is anxious to open his shop and resume his work but also realizes the dangers.
Alton hopes that there will be positive developments from this epidemic. He believes that especially now, we should all think carefully about what is truly important. We should be patient because we’re all in unknown territory and we should respect other’s boundaries. This, Alton said, is new to all of us.
We should all be proud of the steady commitment of businessmen like Alton Casaus to their work. It’s an important part of what makes the Albuquerque Westside a great place to live.